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The Gap Year Blog

Nature's Greatest Travellers

26 Sep 2017 14:05 PM

While some animals live in roughly the same area for their entire lives, other species need to move around in order to survive. This article takes a look at some of these animals that show extreme endurance and embark on journeys that put even the toughest marathon runners to shame.

Arctic tern

Arctic terns are medium-sized seabirds that embark on a remarkable annual journey; in fact they undertake the longest known migration in the animal kingdom! These birds travel from pole to pole, from their northern breeding grounds in the Arctic all the way to the Antarctic and back again within the space of a year. The birds see both the northern and the southern summer and they are thought to cover an average of 44,000 miles every year! These distances are quite remarkable for a relatively small bird.

Flickr | Tony Smith

Humpback whale

Humpback whales are known to travel between their nutrient-rich feeding grounds at the poles, to the warmer waters of the tropics and sub-tropics to mate and give birth to their young. It is thought that this whale can travel up to 16,000 miles each year, making it one of the furthest travelling mammals in the world. During the course of the migration there are many dangers for both the adult whales, and similarly the newborn calves. These include starvation for the mother, who doesn’t feed during the nursing period spent in the tropics and predation for the small calves by killer whales.

Flickr | Christopher Michel

Leatherback turtle

Just like the humpbacks mentioned above, leatherback sea turtles spend part of their year feeding in cooler waters and then travel to warmer tropical waters, where they find their nesting beaches. This journey is thought to be up to 10,000 miles altogether in some cases. These turtles are capable of navigating their way back to the exact beach that they themselves hatched on to lay their own eggs. The mechanism that this species uses to do this is not exactly known, however, it is thought that magnetic fields and ocean currents both play a role in helping leatherbacks to locate their birthplace.

Flickr | Alastair Rae


Some sub-species of caribou travel great distances, enough to make them the greatest travellers of all land mammals! They can travel up to 35 miles a day during their migration period, covering a total distance of around 3,100 miles. They travel in large herds and there have even been reports of many herds coming together to form groups of up to 500,000 individuals. The purpose of this migration is to travel from their summer calving grounds to their winter feeding grounds. The calving grounds have rich food sources and few predators during the summer, but become extremely cold in the winter, which is why these animals must move to somewhere more hospitable.

Flickr | Denali National Park and Preserve

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterflies can be found in Northern USA and Canada in the summer months, when the colder weather draws in at the end of summer or the start of autumn, these insects travel south in huge numbers towards Mexico and Florida. The monarch migration is thought to cover up to 4,300 miles and involves several generations of butterflies. This migration can be a spectacular sight as thousands of butterflies fly and roost together, often completely covering the branches of the trees they rest on.

Flickr | USFWSmidwest

So there you have 5 of nature’s journeys that are enough to make anyone feel lazy! These animals show incredible determination and the will to survive whilst embarking on incredibly long and often dangerous travels.

By Gabrielle Brooks - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs conservationdevelopmentteaching and adventure travel projects in over 50 countries worldwide - so join us and explore the world!