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Animal migration

animal migration, animal migration in africa
Animal migration is the relatively long-distance movement of individuals, usually on a seasonal basis It is found in all major animal groups, including birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and crustaceans The trigger for the migration may be local climate, local availability of food, the season of the year or for mating reasons To be counted as a true migration, and not just a local dispersal or irruption, the movement of the animals should be an annual or seasonal occurrence, such as Northern hemisphere birds migrating south for the winter; wildebeest migrating annually for seasonal grazing; or a major habitat change as part of their life, such as young Atlantic salmon leaving the river of their birth when they have reached a few inches in size


  • 1 Overview
  • 2 In specific groups
    • 21 In birds
    • 22 In fish
    • 23 In insects
    • 24 In other animals
  • 3 Tracking migration
  • 4 In culture
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References
  • 7 Further reading
    • 71 In general
    • 72 In specific groups
    • 73 For children
  • 8 External links


A Christmas Island red crab on its migration

Migration can take very different forms in different species, and as such there is no simple accepted definition of migration One of the most commonly used definitions, proposed by Kennedy is

Migratory behavior is persistent and straightened out movement effected by the animal’s own locomotory exertions or by its active embarkation upon a vehicle It depends on some temporary inhibition of station keeping responses but promotes their eventual disinhibition and recurrence

Migration encompasses four related concepts: persistent straight movement; relocation of an individual on a greater scale both spatially and temporally than its normal daily activities; seasonal ‘to-and-fro’ movement of a population between two areas; and movement leading to the redistribution of individuals within a population Migration can be either obligate, meaning individuals must migrate, or facultative, meaning individuals can "choose" to migrate or not Within a migratory species or even within a single population, often not all individuals migrate Complete migration is when all individuals migrate, partial migration is when some individuals migrate while others do not, and differential migration is when the difference between migratory and non-migratory individuals is based on age or sex for example

The three main types of migration are pilotage, compass orientation, and true navigation

While most migratory movements occur on an annual cycle, some daily movements are also referred to as migration Many aquatic animals make a Diel vertical migration, travelling a few hundred metres up and down the water column, while some jellyfish make daily horizontal migrations, traveling a few hundred metres across a lake

Irregular non-cyclical migrations such as irruptions can occur under pressure of famine, overpopulation of a locality, or some more obscure influence

In specific groups

Flocks of birds assembling before migration southwards

Different kinds of animal migrate in different ways

In birds

Main article: Bird migration

Approximately 1,800 of the world's 10,000 bird species migrate long distances each year in response to the seasons Many of these migrations are north-south, with species feeding and breeding in high northern latitudes in the summer, and moving some hundreds of kilometres south for the winter Some species extend this strategy to migrate annually between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres The Arctic tern is famous for its migration; it flies from its Arctic breeding grounds to the Antarctic and back again each year, a distance of at least 19,000 km 12,000 mi, giving it two summers every year The average arctic tern will travel the equivalent of going around the Earth 60 times in their lifetime

In fish

Main article: Fish migration Many species of salmon migrate up rivers to spawn

Most fish species are relatively limited in their movements, remaining in a single geographical area and making short migrations for wintering, to spawn, or to feed A few hundred species migrate long distances, in some cases of thousands of kilometres About 120 species of fish, including several species of salmon, migrate between saltwater and freshwater they are 'diadromous'

Forage fish such as herring and capelin migrate around substantial parts of the North Atlantic ocean The capelin for example spawn around the southern and western coasts of Iceland; their larvae drift clockwise around Iceland, while the fish swim northwards towards Jan Mayen island to feed, and return to Iceland parallel with Greenland's east coast

In the 'sardine run', billions of Southern African pilchard Sardinops sagax spawn in the cool waters of the Agulhas Bank and move northward along the east coast of South Africa between May and July

In insects

Main articles: Insect migration and Lepidoptera migration An aggregation of migratory Pantala flavescens dragonflies, known as globe skimmers, in Coorg, India

Some winged insects such as locusts and certain butterflies and dragonflies with strong flight migrate long distances Among the dragonflies, species of Libellula and Sympetrum are known for mass migration, while Pantala flavescens, known as the globe skimmer or wandering glider dragonfly, makes the longest ocean crossing of any insect, between India and Africa Exceptionally, swarms of the desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria, flew westwards across the Atlantic ocean for 4500 km during October 1988, using air currents in the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone

In some migratory butterflies, such as the monarch butterfly and the painted lady, no individual completes the whole migration Instead the butterflies mate and reproduce on the journey, and successive generations travel the next stage of the migration

In other animals

Wildebeest on the Serengeti 'great migration'

Mass migration occurs in mammals such as the Serengeti 'great migration', an annual circular pattern of movement with some 17 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of other large game animals including gazelles and zebra

Migration is important in other mammals including Cetaceans, whales, dolphins and porpoises Long-distance migrations occur in some bats, notably the mass migration of the Mexican free-tailed bat between Oregon and southern Mexico

Some reptiles and amphibians migrate

Some crustaceans migrate, most spectacularly the Christmas Island red crab which moves en masse each year by the million

Tracking migration

A migratory butterfly, a monarch, tagged for identification Main article: Animal migration tracking

Scientists gather observations of animal migration by tracking their movements Animals were traditionally tracked with identification tags such as bird rings for later recovery; no information was obtained about the actual route followed between release and recovery, and only a small fraction of tagged individuals were generally recovered More convenient, therefore, are electronic devices such as radio tracking collars which can be followed by radio, whether handheld, in a vehicle or aircraft, or by satellite Tags can include a GPS receiver, enabling accurate positions to be broadcast at regular intervals, but these are inevitably heavier and more expensive than devices without GPS An alternative is the Argos Doppler tag, also called a 'Platform Transmitter Terminal' PTT which sends regularly to the polar-orbiting Argos satellites; using Doppler shift, the animal's location can be estimated, relatively roughly compared to GPS, but at lower cost and weight

Radio tracking tags can be fitted to insects including dragonflies and bees

In culture

Before the phenomenon of animal migration was understood, various folklore and erroneous explanations sprang up to account for the disappearance or sudden arrival of birds in an area In Ancient Greece, Aristotle proposed that robins turned into redstarts when summer arrived The barnacle goose was explained in European Medieval bestiaries and manuscripts as either growing like fruit on trees, or developing from goose barnacles on pieces of driftwood Another example is the swallow, which was once thought, even by naturalists such as Gilbert White, to hibernate either underwater, buried in muddy riverbanks, or in hollow trees

See also

  • Animal navigation
  • Human migration


  1. ^ a b c Dingle, Hugh; Drake, V Alistair 2007 "What is migration" BioScience 57 2: 113–121 doi:101641/B570206 
  2. ^ National Geographic Why Animals Migrate
  3. ^ Attenborough, David 1990 The Trials of Life London: Collins/BBCBooks p 123 ISBN 0-00-219940-8 
  4. ^ Kennedy, J S 1985 "Migration: Behavioral and ecological" In Rankin, M Migration: Mechanisms and Adaptive Significance: Contributions in Marine Science Marine Science Institute pp 5–26 
  5. ^ McLaren, IA 1974 "Demographic strategy of vertical migration by a marine copepod" The American Naturalist 108 959: 91–102 doi:101086/282887 JSTOR 2459738 
  6. ^ Hamner, WM; Hauri, IR 1981 "Long-distance horizontal migrations of zooplankton Scyphomedusae: Mastigias" Limnology and Oceanography 26 3: 414–423 doi:104319/lo19812630414 
  7. ^  Ingersoll, Ernest 1920 "Migration" In Rines, George Edwin Encyclopedia Americana 
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  9. ^ Berthold, Peter; Bauer, Hans-Günther; Westhead, Valerie 2001 Bird Migration: A General Survey Oxford: Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-850787-9 
  10. ^ Cramp, Steve, ed 1985 Birds of the Western Palearctic pp 87–100 ISBN 0-19-857507-6 
  11. ^ Harden Jones, F R Fish Migration: strategy and tactics pp139–166 in Aidley, 1981
  12. ^ Myers, George S 1949 "Usage of Anadromous, Catadromous and allied terms for migratory fishes" Copeia 1949 2: 89–97 doi:102307/1438482 
  13. ^ Barbaro, A; Einarsson, B; Birnir, B; Sigurðsson, S; Valdimarsson, S; Pálsson, ÓK; Sveinbjörnsson, S; Sigurðsson, P 2009 "Modelling and simulations of the migration of pelagic fish" PDF Journal of Marine Science 66 5: 826–838  CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter link
  14. ^ Fréon, P; Coetzee, JC; Van Der Lingen, CD; Connell, AD; o'Donoghue, SH; Roberts, MJ; Demarcq, H; Attwood, CG; Lamberth, SJ 2010 "A review and tests of hypotheses about causes of the KwaZulu-Natal sardine run" African Journal of Marine Science 32 2: 449–479 doi:102989/1814232X2010519451 
  15. ^ Williams, CB 1957 "Insect Migration" Annual Review of Entomology 2 1: 163–180 doi:101146/annureven02010157001115 
  16. ^ Tipping, Christopher 8 May 1995 "Chapter 11: The Longest Migration" Department of Entomology & Nematology University of Florida Retrieved 8 September 2014 
  17. ^ Stefanescu, C, Páramo, F, Åkesson, S, Alarcón, M, Ávila, A, Brereton, T, Carnicer, J, Cassar, LF, Fox, R, Heliölä, J, Hill, J K, Hirneisen, N, Kjellén, N, Kühn, E, Kuussaari, M, Leskinen, M, Liechti, F, Musche, M, Regan, EC, Reynolds, DR, Roy, DB, Ryrholm, N, Schmaljohann, H, Settele, J, Thomas, C D, van Swaay, C and Chapman, JW 2012, Multi-generational long-distance migration of insects: studying the painted lady butterfly in the Western Palaearctic Ecography doi:101111/j1600-0587201207738x
  18. ^ "How to Get There, Ngorongoro Crater" Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania 2013 Retrieved 19 June 2014 
  19. ^ "Ngorongoro Conservation Area" United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – World Heritage Centre Retrieved 19 June 2014 
  20. ^ Lockyer, CH and Brown, SG The Migration of Whales pp105-137 in Aidley, 1981
  21. ^ "Bats & Migration" Organization for Bat Conservation Retrieved 19 June 2014 
  22. ^ Russell, A P; Bauer, A M; Johnson, M K 2005 Ashraf, M T, ed Migration in amphibians and reptiles: an overview of patterns and orientation mechanisms in relation to life history strategies Migration of Organisms Springer pp 151–203 
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  24. ^ "What is animal tracking" Movebank database of animal tracking data Retrieved 19 June 2014 
  25. ^ "Tracking Migration of Dragonflies, Sparrows, and Bees" National Geographic Retrieved 19 June 2014 
  26. ^ "The Earthlife Web - What is Bird Migration" 
  27. ^ "Medieval Bestiary - Barnacle Goose" 
  28. ^ Cocker, Mark; Mabey, Richard 2005 Birds Britannica Chatto & Windus p 315 ISBN 0-7011-6907-9 

Further reading

In general

  • Aidley, DJ 1981 Animal migration Cambridge University Press
  • Baker, RR 1978 The Evolutionary Ecology of Animal Migration Holmes & Meier Publishers
  • Dingle, H 1996 Migration: The Biology of Life on the Move Oxford University Press
  • Gauthreaux, SA 1980 Animal Migration, Orientation, and Navigation Academic Press
  • Milner-Gulland, EJ, JM Fryxell, and ARE Sinclair 2011 Animal Migration: A Synthesis Oxford University Press
  • Rankin, M 1985 Migration: Mechanisms and Adaptive Significance: Contributions in Marine Science Marine Science Institute
  • Riede, K 2002 Global Register of Migratory Species With database and GIS maps on CD

In specific groups

  • Alerstam, T 1990 Bird migration Cambridge University Press
  • Berthold, P 2003 Avian migration Springer
  • Drake, VA and Gatehouse, A G 1995 Insect migration: tracking resources through space and time Cambridge University Press
  • Elphick, J 1995 The atlas of bird migration: tracing the great journeys of the world's birds Random House
  • Greenberg, R and Marra, PP 2005 Birds of Two Worlds: The Ecology and Evolution of Migration Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Harden Jones, FR 1968 Fish migration St Martin’s Press
  • Lucas, MC and Baras, E 2001 Migration of freshwater fishes Blackwell Science
  • McKeown, BA 1984 Fish migration Timber Press

For children

  • Gans, R and Mirocha, P How do Birds Find their Way HarperCollins Stage 2
  • Marsh, L 2010 Amazing Animal Journeys National Geographic Society Level 3

External links

  • https://webarchiveorg/web/20121017111637/http://wwwnpsgov:80/akso/parkwise/students/referencelibrary/general/migrationbasicshtm
  • Witnessing the Great Migration in Serengeti and Masai Mara
  • Global Register of Migratory Species - identifies, maps and features 4,300 migratory vertebrate species
  • Animal migration on PubMed MeSH term F01145113083

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