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Why do Some Animals Migrate?

Animals migrate to survive. They journey vast distances in search of food, better climates, or safe breeding grounds, driven by instinct and environmental cues. This remarkable behavior ensures species thrive despite seasonal changes. Migration is a testament to nature's resilience and adaptability. How do these creatures navigate such incredible journeys? Join us as we uncover the secrets of animal migration.
S. Mithra
S. Mithra

Animals migrate to reproduce, eat, or seek warmer climates. Those that migrate travel long distances in groups from one part of the world to another, past oceans, over plains, or through the sky on a decided route. Some species must travel thousands of miles every year, while others make the trip just once in their lifetime.

Warmer weather often means a larger or better food source. Animals, like geese, who spend spring and summer in the cool northern hemisphere, move south for the winter on a seasonal schedule. They follow the same path from year to year, often stopping at the same landmarks. Herbivorous mammals, like African antelope, follow green grass depending on precipitation and drought. Their yearly travel patterns might not be along the same path, depending on the weather and their feeding. Those wanderers, called "nomadic migrators," include the behavior of massive plagues like locusts. Generally, though, animals travel closer to the warmer equatorial zone and away from the poles during winter.

Some frogs migrate.
Some frogs migrate.

Another cycle that triggers migration is mating, gestation, birth, and raising young. Some animals, like Pacific trout, make one long migration over the course of their lives. From small streams, they travel to open waters to mature, then return to their birthplace when they are ready to spawn. The ideal location for an animal's reproduction might have a special food source, less predators, or a geographical feature necessary for new life. Tortoises must have soft, sandy beaches to bury their leathery eggs. Frogs need low, leafy branches to overhang ponds not in danger of drying up too soon.

Geese migrate south during colder months.
Geese migrate south during colder months.

Migration takes an enormous amount of energy. Leading up to the long trip, animals build up fat for stored energy, or pare down weight for easier movement. Hormonal chemicals trigger these changes. In animals equipped to navigate long distances, the position of the sun and stars in the sky, water currents, temperature, wind conditions, and their "biological clock" help them reach the appropriate destination.

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Discussion Comments


Where can I find info on tectonic plate movement and migration patterns? Isn't one theory of migration patterns for some animals the movement of tectonic plate?


@momothree: Probably the most common North American migrator is the bird. There are over 100 species of birds that completely leave the U.S. every winter and migrate in the West Indies or Latin America.

Bird migration is a very fascinating thing to watch.


@momothree: I think that one of the most fascinating migrators is the monarch butterfly. Every fall, these butterflies migrate to warmer climates. In temperatures below 55 degrees, it is impossible for them to fly so they must migrate.

Almost 100 million monarch butterflies migrate to either California or Mexico every year.


What North American animals migrate?

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    • Some frogs migrate.
      By: andrewburgess
      Some frogs migrate.
    • Geese migrate south during colder months.
      By: Delmas Lehman
      Geese migrate south during colder months.
    • "Plagues" of locusts are often due to the insects' migration.
      By: alessandrozocc
      "Plagues" of locusts are often due to the insects' migration.