Migration: The Incredible Road Trip

George Johnson Monday, 09 October 2017

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Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Animals take some truly amazing journeys. It’s something I forget most of the year, but in autumn I’m always reminded of the seasonal trip, or migration, that some animals take.

Birds are the classic example of animals that migrate. They fly south for the winter and return in the spring.

Today, I’d like to talk about three animals that take yearly migrations and the reasons behind their journeys. Fall is when they usually start moving, so keep your eyes open for them.

MONARCH BUTTERFLY

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Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Each fall, these beautiful insects travel all the way down to Mexico. They race to escape the coming winter cold and will fly about 2,500 miles. Pretty impressive for a creature that weighs less than a paper clip.

The most amazing part of the monarch’s migration is that no one individual butterfly makes the entire journey to Mexico and back. In fact, the butterfly that makes it to Mexico in the fall is four generations after the one that left Mexico the previous spring! That would be like your great-great-grandparents starting on an adventure and you being the generation that returns home.

RED-BACKED SALAMANDER

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You may be thinking, “Hang on. Salamanders don’t have wings. How can they migrate?” They may not move thousands of miles like monarchs, but they still make a seasonal trip to survive the winter.

Red-backed salamanders don’t have lungs. They breathe through their skin. To do that, they need both a moist place to live and a layer of this slimy substance that covers their body. During winter the slime can freeze, which would kill the salamander.

How do these salamanders escape the cold? Instead of going south, they travel underground. They burrow a few feet down, deep enough that the soil stays above freezing even in the depths of winter. There the salamanders wait for spring so they can climb back to the surface.

Hey, not all migrations need to be far.

EASTERN BLUEBIRD

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Like a lot of birds, New York’s state bird heads south in the fall in search of food. When you depend on insects and berries, a land of snow and ice doesn’t offer much. So eastern bluebirds pack up and head down to the Gulf Coast states like Texas, Mississippi, and Florida. Once they arrive, like other New York snowbirds, they relax poolside and sip mai tais in between rounds at the local golf course.

That might be a bit of an exaggeration.

Joking aside, keep an eye out for these three migratory animals the next time you’re walking outdoors. Give them a wave and wish them good luck for the winter. It’ll be a while before you see them again.

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