Animal Navigation Fun Facts — Part 2

Think humans are good at navigation? Think again. Compared to some of the mesmerizing navigational abilities of birds and other species, human navigation is actually quite primitive. Here is part two of our facts series about animal navigation from Nature’s Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation by James L. Gould and Carol Grant Gould.

Honeybee fact: Bees “dance” to communicate the location of a food source. What are bees actually doing during their dance? Trigonometry of course. They draw accurate maps to food by generating distance and direction components in their dances. When bees waggle while they dance, the direction of their waggling encodes the direction of the food. Pointing up refers to the direction of the sun and then the dancer reveals the relative azimuth of the sun by waggling left or right. Depending on the subspecies of bee, each waggle can correspond to a distance of 5-50 yards.

Bird fact: Many birds travel at night, and while they are unable to see shapes, they use starlight to help them navigate. They memorize star patterns, particularly the poles, and update their celestial snapshot depending on which constellations are visible during the season. When it’s overcast, birds resort to using their secondary magnetic compass and navigate by following magnetic fields.

Bonus fact: Even plankton have navigational abilities. Zooplankton, the organism that nearly all fish feed on, migrate down daily and up at night to follow their prey—phytoplankton.

We’ll be back next Monday for the third and final part to our animal navigation facts series.