Nature Had It First
“Even the stork in the heavens—it well knows its appointed times.”—Jeremiah 8:7.
JEREMIAH wrote about the migrating stork over 2,500 years ago. Today, people still marvel at creatures that migrate, such as salmon, which can swim thousands of miles in the ocean and return to the stream where they were born, and leatherback sea turtles, which also make incredible journeys. One that nested in Indonesia was tracked as it migrated 13,000 miles [20,000 km] to the coast of Oregon in the United States. Leatherbacks often return to the same area of Indonesia to nest again.
Some creatures can home, a skill even more remarkable than the navigation of migrators. For example, investigators took 18 albatross by plane from a small island in the center of the Pacific Ocean to several locations thousands of miles away and released them—some near the western rim of the ocean and others near the eastern rim. Within a few weeks, most of the birds had returned home.
Pigeons have been transported more than 100 miles [150 km] to unfamiliar places while under deep anesthesia or in rotating drums, yet after circling a few times, they have calculated their position and turned accurately toward home. Since the pigeons can find their way home even when wearing frosted eyeglasses, researchers believe that they calculate their position in relation to home by detecting the directions from which they receive important navigational information.
Monarch butterflies from vast areas of North America migrate more than a thousand miles to a small area of Mexico. Even though they have never been to Mexico before, they find their way, often to the same trees where their great-grandparents roosted the previous year. Just how they do it still baffles researchers.
Whereas our automatic navigation devices may depend totally on satellites, many animals seem to be able to use various navigation methods—from observing landmarks and the sun to detecting magnetic fields, distinctive smells, and even sounds. Professor of biology James L. Gould writes: “Animals whose lives depend on accurate navigation are uniformly overengineered. . . . They usually come equipped with alternative strategies—a series of backups between which they switch depending on which is providing the most reliable information.” The sophistication of animal navigation continues to confound investigators.