Often times encountering dangerous predators and other perils in search for greener pastures or good breeding grounds, millions of animals embark every year on a journey that will take them hundreds if not thousands of miles away from their natural habitat. It is a truly amazing sight to see such an exodus take place, knowing that in a few months it will happen all over again, but in reverse. Here are 15 of the most awesome animal migrations in the world.
15. The Giant Fruit Bat
With an average weight of 300 grams (11 oz.) and a wingspan of almost one meter (3 ft.), this bat is one of the largest in Africa. Living in sub-Saharan regions, from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east and as far south as South Africa, this bat prefers moist areas, like rain forests, abundant in trees from which they rest, hanging upside down. They are also common in dry savannas or even around urban areas.
Every November, Kasanka National Park in Zambia sees a large production of fruits such as mango, wild loquat and various types of berries which are the Fruit Bat’s main dish. So for two months as much as 15 million individuals cover the skies every evening. Eating twice their body weight every night, these bats are responsible for up to 60% of seed dispersal in the park. According to eye witnesses, this extraordinary spectacle is one the greatest experiences one can have in their lifetime, being the largest gathering of any mammal species in one place.
Common all around the Arctic Circle, these small furry rodents are quite solitary all year round, only coming together to mate and sometimes migrate. They do not hibernate over the harsh polar winter, being protected by a thick fur coat which changes color between seasons.
Not usually making a habit of moving around very much, they only start to migrate for better areas when food runs low or populations get too big. Wrongly accused of suicidal tendencies, the Lemmings do not throw themselves off cliffs into the ocean.
This was simply a disinformation made popular by Disney in their 1950’s “True Life Adventures” documentary series, showing these poor little creatures making mass leaps of faith into the arctic waters. Only later was it found out that they were actually being chased off the cliff-side by the camera crew, just to make the show a bit more interesting.
The Salmon, also known as the “king of fish”, makes a tremendous journey throughout his life, spawning in rivers along the Northern coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Their early life is spent in fresh waters, after which they migrate to the oceans where they live out their adulthood, spanning anywhere between 6 months to 7 years (depending on the species).
Once good and fat, they begin their course back home. Battling downward flowing water, jumping over obstacles and the lack of food, exhausts them beyond measure. Fishing nets, bears and other predators along with water pollution, make sure that only the strongest and luckiest make it. Not common among vertebrates but a frequent approach amidst insects, the salmon is one of the few that puts all its energy in reproduction and then dying just a couple of days later.
12. Monarch Butterfly
Native to Canada and the United States, these butterflies, come autumn, leave for the forests of Mexico and Southern California, traveling distances of up to 3000 miles (4800 km.). Around the month of October sometimes even sooner, depending on the weather, they depart from the Rocky Mountains in search of eucalyptus or oyamel fir trees to hibernate.
With a lifespan of around 5 weeks, the Monarch butterfly baffles biologists, always returning to the same trees 4 generations apart. Agriculture, the construction of highways and deforestation have severely affected their winter habitat, putting this wonderful spectacle at risk.
The Great Wildebeest Migration begins for each individual at birth. It is a perpetual relocation for these 1.5 million animals accompanied by 350,000 Thomson’s gazelle, 200,000 Zebras and around 12,000 Eland.They are in a continuous search for greener pastures and abundant drinking water across the Serengeti, dictated by the wet and dry seasons.
Always on the road and constantly being hunted by lions or crocodiles, when crossing the Mara Riverin the Maasai Mara region, clearly has its perils. Around December the herd starts to move toward Ndutu region in Tanzania where over 8000 wildebeest calves are born each day in a period of about 3 weeks. They are on the move by mid-March, being again driven by the weather.
10. Freshwater Eels
Very common around the planet, all freshwater eels start their lives in the ocean. Depending on where they came from, Europe, Asia, America, Africa or Australia, they spawn in nearby oceans and suffer some physical changes along the way.
Once born, these eels, in their larval form, look like leaves, swept of by the currents bringing them ever closer to the coastline. Up until 1896 they were thought to be a different saltwater eel species, but the Italian zoologist Giovanni Grassi deduced them to be in fact the freshwater eels’ offspring, just returning home. Once near the coast they undertake an extraordinary transformation, becoming more slender and eel like with transparent bodies, giving them the name of “glass eels”.
They migrate up river in their millions, turning brown in color and jumping over waterfalls and other obstacles; an ability which they will later lose. Hydroelectric dam construction, however, is known to have reduced the eel’s habitat by 35 percent. Their mature life is spent here in these rivers, living up to 18 years, but in captivity they can reach to be even 85 years old.
Once sexually mature they begin their return journey and suffer yet another transformation from yellow-bellies to silver-bellies, for better camouflage, and like the Salmon, but in reverse, will never make it back again. Traveling up to six months, they reach their spawning grounds, lay their eggs and die.
9. African Elephant
With an average height reaching up to 4 meters (13 ft.) tall and an extraordinary weight of 6,000 kg. (13,000 pounds), the elephant is the largest land mammal on Earth. Larger than its Indian cousin, the African species has got bigger ears which it uses to cool its blood and larger tusks good for searching food, fending of predators or fighting for mating rights. Grown males are solitary creatures but females live in packs alongside younger elephants of the same family.
They travel in herds led by the eldest female, called the “matriarch” which remembers all the old paths across the mainland in search of water and food. These families sometimes group together, numbering as much as 500 individuals which can be problematic because of the shortage of resources during the dry seasons. They migrate as often as needed, trying to avoid predators and poachers who hunt them for ivory.
8. Eastern Pacific Gray Whale
Simply known as the Gray Whale, these gentle giants have the longest migration of any mammal. Starting in the Arctic Ocean, just north of the Bering Sea, and traveling 6,000 miles (9,500 km.) south along the American coast, they reach the Baja peninsula around mid-December.
First to arrive are the pregnant mothers who seek secluded lagoons where to give birth. Closely followed by the rest, they spend a few moths here, mating and taking care of their young. By April they undertake the return journey, feeding on the way. The Gray Whale is the only one of the baleen species who eats invertebrates from the seafloor.
After the discovery of their breeding grounds in 1857, they were nearly hunted to extinction up until 1946 when the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has granted them protection. Since then they have been removed from the Endangered Species List, today numbering around 25,000 individuals.
7. Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
Like most migratory birds, this small 9 cm (3.5 In.) hummingbird was and still is a tropical animal. With the end of the Ice Age new land was available, rich in food and nesting sites, perfect for “colonization”. However temperate climate has its drawbacks, mainly because of winter.
During summer the Red-Throated Hummingbird spends its time in the US and Canada but when temperatures start to drop they migrate to Central America. Crossing the Gulf of Mexico is hard work so making it on the other side in one flight is very demanding, requiring a lot of energy. Prior to this journey they gorge themselves with insects and nectar, almost doubling in weight, from 3.25 grams (0.11 oz.) to 6 grams (0.2 oz.). By the end of this 500 mile Gulf crossing and flying continuously for 20 hours, they end up having just above 2 grams (.08 oz.) in weight.
Solitary by nature, these hummingbirds don’t flock together when migrating making it harder to accurately track their movements but it is believed that once back in North America they return to the same area they left a few months before.
6. Christmas Island Red Crabs
Living only on Christmas Island of the coast of Australia, the Red Crab has a very large population. Even though they are quite big, 12 cm. (4-5 inches) you will rarely see them on the island. Solitary animals, they live in burrows underground to shield them from the sun and prevent dehydration.
Come November when the low and high tides are almost the same and the entire island turns red. One of the world’s greatest miracles, the Christmas Island Red Crab migration numbers around 120 million individuals.
When they reach sexual maturity these crabs head for the water to mate and lay their eggs. One female can have around 100,000 eggs at once. Luckily, during this “color festival”, the island is closed off to cars and other vehicles to protect this miracle of nature.
The Flamingo spends its days in shallow water, most of the time with its head bent over, filtering water through its beak, eating small crustaceans and other small, shallow water dwellers that happen to end up being sucked into its mouth.
Being one of the tallest birds in the world, they are found in Africa, Europe, north and south America and Asia and their migration is yet another rare spectacle that everybody should witness at least once. Because the Flamingo is not a normal migratory bird, it is very hard to do so and will require some degree of luck.
Only if food runs out or the lakes and marshes that they live in dry out or freeze, will they migrate somewhere else. These slender birds live in large flocks and prefer flying at night and at high altitudes to avoid predators. Once they descend upon a new location the entire lake or swamp suddenly turns pink and very, very noisy.
4. Leatherback Sea Turtle
With its flexible rather than bony shells the Leatherback is different from other turtles and can trace its evolutionary roots back 100 million years. It is also the largest, reaching lengths of two meters (7 ft.) and an average weight of 900 kg. (2000 pounds).
Willing to break every record, these turtles are also the only ones who can dive to depths up to 1,300 meters (4,200 feet), stay underwater for up to an hour and a half, maintain warm body temperatures in freezing water, have the largest distribution area of any reptile and the longest migration paths of any sea turtle .
They are found in every ocean except for the Arctic and Antarctic and their migration from feeding to birthing grounds is around 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles). Once pregnant, females are the only ones that migrate towards the same beaches they in turn originated from.
During the night, they dig a large hole in the sand and lay around 80 eggs. The babies become either male or female depending on the temperature of the nest. Higher than 29.5 degrees Celsius (85.1 Fahrenheit ) will produce more females and lower temperatures produce more males.
Once hatched, the little turtles leave their nests and head for the open seas. Males will never have to make the return journey and will live their entire lives at sea. Only around one in a thousand hatchlings will reach full maturity.
3. Wandering Glider
Not much is known about these dragonflies and their habits but recently it has been discovered that they have the longest migration pattern of any insect. The Wandering Glider, also known as the Globe Skimmer, leaves India at the end of the wet season, travels across the Indian Ocean and reaches Africa in search of ponds and marches so they can reproduce.
The round journey is about 11,000 miles (18,000 km.), but none of these gliders make it to see both continents. With a lifespan of only a couple of weeks they die and reproduce on the way, leaving a legacy for their offspring to finish what they started. To achieve this tremendous task, they are helped by the very predictable Monsoon Winds which blow back and forth at regular intervals.
These mighty predators of the sea come in various shapes and sizes and across most oceans. Solitary animals, they prowl the waters in search of food. Influenced by the seasons and water temperature, they congregate once a year in various places to mate or find more abundant food sources.
Out of all of them, the Whale Shark has the longest migration of 5,000 miles (7,200 km.). This 10 meter (33 ft.) long giant is as big as a school bus and weighs 20 tons. However it is the gentler one of the family, being a filter feeder, it does not attack other fish or other pray, its main diet being plankton.
It is hard to determine their patterns and breeding habits but thanks to modern technologies and tracking beacons, scientist can determine more accurately where sharks like “to hang out together” the most.
1. Arctic Tern
This small 100 gram bird is the king when it comes to going south for the winter. While most animals travel from cold or temperate areas to warmer climates in the late months of the year, the Arctic Tern leaves the Arctic around August and September for Antarctica of all places.
This journey will take them across the globe, traveling alongside the coasts of Europe, Africa or the Americas to reach the South Pole in winter when the sun is on the sky the longest. They spend a couple of months here and then embark on the return voyage back to the Arctic, this time travelling in an “S” shape across the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
This little white bird, with a distinctive black spot on its head and red beak travels around 70,000 km. (43,000 miles) per year, longer than any animal, anywhere. And with a lifespan of around 30 years, they would have flown a total of 2.4 million km. (1.5 million miles) equal to 3 trips to the moon and back. Funny enough, before scientists started to observe and analyze bird migration paths,and anything else for that matter, people generally thought that birds went to the moon on their annual migrations.
Going south for the winter is also true for these slimy little fellows. Not being known for their exceptional speeds or long distances, they take the short way there -straight down-, just below the frost line. They bunch up by the hundreds to conserve heat and energy. Once temperatures go above 2 degrees Celsius (36 Fahrenheit) they begin to resurface and together with the returning robins, tell us that spring has officially come back.