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The Greatest Animal Migrations on the Planet

Team StoryWeavers|September 24, 2021, 19:26 IST|

When human beings travel, it is often for leisure, where the main goal is to take in new sights, eat new food and meet people whose company is cherished. But in the animal kingdom, travel, or in this case, migration, is a far more serious business. Animals live in close connection to their habitats and in most cases, these surroundings are vital for their survival. This is why when animals migrate, it is often a matter of survival too – to find food for the season, to mate and propagate their species or to find more hospitable conditions to live in. Today, let’s look at some of the greatest animal migrations seen in nature!

Multi-generational migration

While birds are the most common migrators observed in nature, various species of insects migrate too. The migration of the monarch butterfly is perhaps one of the most colourful ones in nature. Every year, millions of monarch butterflies leave their homes in North America and fly south for the winter towards South America crossing almost 5,000 km in travel.

A monarch butterfly. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

A monarch butterfly. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly, the lifespan of the monarch butterfly is shorter than the time it takes them to reach their migration destination. So often older butterflies die during the trip and new caterpillars are born on the way to their migratory spot!

Slow but steady migration

The large humpback whales who rule the oceans are seasonal migrators too. During the warm summer months, they spend their time in cooler seas where there is plenty of fish to eat. And during the winter months, they move to warmer waters to raise their families.

Humpback whales. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Humpback whales. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

What humpback whales lack in speed, they make up for in persistence. So even though these giant beasts cannot swim very fast, they do swim non-stop, often covering close to 8,000 kilometres in one migratory trip. While moving to warmer waters in the winter months, the whales don’t stop to feed and survive on the fat stores in their body that get built up over summer.

Moving-carpet migration

Another fascinating migration is that of the red crabs on Christmas Island in Australia. These crustaceans move from their homes on the island towards the ocean to mate and lay eggs. But the timing of their migration and resultant mating is crucial. The crabs only start moving after the first rain of the year indicating that it’s time to migrate, (although some scientists also speculate that it could be internal hormonal changes that urge these animals to migrate) and they mate before sunrise and high-tide hit the coast in the last lunar quarter.

Red crabs migrating. Image source: Giphy

Red crabs migrating. Image source: Giphy

This is why, when the rains are delayed some years, the crabs are seen hurrying towards the ocean to complete their migration on time! When these crabs migrate, the island often looks like it’s covered in a moving carpet of crabs!

Let’s also look at some interesting questions on migration.

Which animal travels the most?

The tiny unassuming Arctic tern is the bird with the longest migration. These agile fliers migrate from one pole to the other. When summer ends in the Northern Hemisphere they leave the Arctic and start migrating to the Antarctic.

An Arctic tern. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

An Arctic tern. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

They spend most of their year over the ocean. With most of them weighing less than 2 kilograms, their migration is quite a feat of strength and endurance for these summer chasers.

Which animal has the toughest migration?

While most scientists consider the Arctic tern’s migration the toughest, there are many other species with incredibly difficult migration routes. One of them is the bar-headed goose. These birds reach incredible altitudes in their migratory journey.

A bar-headed goose. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

A bar-headed goose. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

While flying from Mongolia to China and India during the winter the flock crosses the Himalayas at altitudes upwards of 7000 meters from sea level! At such a height the amount of oxygen available to them is very low but the birds still manage to make the trip every year.

What is the largest mammal migration in the world?

The migration of fruit bats in Zambia, Africa is considered to be the largest migration of mammals on Earth. By some estimates, millions of fruit bats migrate to the Zambia Kasanka National Park in search of food like berries, seeds and fruits making the sky appear pitch black as they take flight.

A fruit bat. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

A fruit bat. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The bats migrate to the national park towards October and November from the surrounding forests. Many scientists believe that this migratory trip from the bats acts as an important regenerator of African forests – the bats help eat fruits and disperse seeds around the continent during their migration.

Do you think migratory species have an advantage over those who don’t migrate? Tell us in the comments!

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About the Author

Deepthi is an ambivert who is on a steady diet of good food, filter coffee, and self-improvement. Being an ardent reader, storytelling has been her first love and she enjoys exploring how to convey stories compellingly. Having studied psychology and experienced the learning and development field, Deepthi is driven to understand human behavior and to know what makes each of us unique. You are most likely to find her tucked into a cozy corner at a local cafe with a Kindle or a book in hand. If you find her there, stop by and say hello, she'd be eager to learn your story too. Until then, you can ping her at for anything you may like to share.

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