Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Kartik from AUCKLAND. Kartik Wonders, “do animals use GPS” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Kartik!
While we were wandering through the Wonderopolis outback the other day, we overheard an interesting conversation between a bandicoot and a kangaroo:
Kangaroo: The invitation says the party is at the big oak tree by the little pond. Are you sure we're at the right tree?
Bandicoot: How would I know? Who has a birthday party out here anyway? Didn't you bring your GPS?
Kangaroo: No! I thought you knew the way!
Bandicoot: What about a map or a compass? Do you have your phone? Call the koala bears. They know all about trees.
Kangaroo: I don't have any of that stuff!
Bandicoot: Don't you have a pouch? What in the world do you keep in there?
Kangaroo: My car keys, of course! I left the GPS, the map, and my phone in the car!
Bandicoot: *sigh* I bet all the cake is gone by the time we get there.
Have you ever run into trouble finding a location? Fortunately, we humans have a wide variety of marvelous technology at our fingertips to make a breeze. Today, we can use a smartphone that communicates with Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites circling Earth to tell us exactly where we are and exactly how to get to where we want to be.
Animals, on the other hand, don't use GPS devices. They don't use maps or compasses either. By now you probably know that animals don't use the Internet and electronic devices like we do.
Yet, many animals are able to travel hundreds, if not thousands, of miles each year when they migrate from one place to another. How do they keep from getting lost across such vast distances without the help of navigational tools?
Scientists have been fascinated with animal for many years. Over time, they have learned that animals use a variety of different methods for . Let's take a look at a few examples of particular animals and how they navigate.
Salmon often migrate thousands of miles across ocean waters to find their way back to the freshwater streams where they were first hatched. Recent studies suggest that salmon know their location by sensing variations in Earth's magnetic field. Each spot on Earth has a distinctive magnetic "signature," and scientists believe salmon recognize the particular magnetic signature of the place where they were spawned.
Many other animals use visual landmarks to guide them. Much like humans might make a right turn when they see a big red barn, eagles fly home based upon mountain ridges and whales swim along following coastlines.
Other animals, such as fiddler crabs, navigate via path integration, which is also sometimes known as "dead reckoning." This technique requires them to keep close track of how many steps they've taken in a particular direction, so that they can then retrace those steps to take them back to their burrows.
Some animals, especially birds, use more complicated calculations to navigate. Using a technique called celestial (which used to be used by human sailors many years ago), birds can use the Sun, the Moon, and the stars to know where they are and how to get where they're going.
Scientists recently discovered how Monarch butterflies use the Sun to make their 2,000-mile trek between Canada and Mexico. Neurons in the butterflies' antennae are used for timekeeping while different neurons in their eyes keep track of the Sun's position throughout the day. They use these two mechanisms to guide their 2-month-long journey!
These are just a few examples of the many ways animals navigate their worlds. Scientists continue to study different species to learn more about how animals are able to find their way without our modern navigational tools. Perhaps we'll be able to one day use what we learn to help us navigate even better! For example, if we could always find our way home like a homing pigeon, we'd never get lost!