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The Most Magnificent Animal Migrations on Earth
In the WildKnowledge

The Most Magnificent Animal Migrations on Earth

Critter Culture Staff



Wanderlust isn't limited to just humans. Across the globe, animals make arduous journeys, traveling thousands of miles to nearly every corner of the planet. A wide range of species participate, whether they're foraging, mating, or finding new homes. These primal patterns occur without fail year after year with no maps and no GPS. Millions of animals make the trek, from minuscule birds to 30-ton whales, and for wildlife enthusiasts, these breathtaking journeys are truly a once-in-a-lifetime sight.


The great migration

A herd of wildebeest crossing the Mara River, Kenya Stefonlinton / Getty Images

Undoubtedly the most well-known migration on earth, this lengthy East African trek features eye-catching herds of over 1.5 million wildebeest, 500,000 zebra, and 200,000 gazelles. An astounding two million+ animals make their way across the Serengeti plains. Seasonal rain and drought are what draw this spectacle, with three key migration patterns occurring each year: December to April, May to July, and July to November. A never-ending journey that covers over 600 miles, it's a striking sight regardless of the season.



Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya Daryl Balfour / Getty Images

One of the longest animal migrations in Africa, Botswana's zebra migration encompasses a round-trip journey of over 300 miles. Every December-March, several thousand zebras travel from the Chobe River floodplains to the Nxai Pan, a plain along the country's northern edge abundant with sweet, nutritious grass. This annual migration pattern is hereditary, and it helps prevent zebras from over-grazing in any one region. Heavy rains during this green season impact the migration's exact rate and path, yet it still occurs naturally generation after generation.


Humpback whales

A humpback whale mother and calf swim close to the surface in blue water Craig Lambert / Getty Images

Encompassing over 5,000 miles, the humpback whale migration is the longest migration of any mammal on earth — very fitting for the world's largest mammal. Starting in the Antarctic, these striking creatures travel along the shores of Mozambique's Quirimbas Archipelago from July to September, heading past South Africa, South America, and Australia every May to December. In the June-October months, whales can be spotted in their final destination off the coast of Ecuador before returning to arctic waters.

Unlike other species, humpback whales are wanderers who love exploration, so their migration pattern is never completely predictable. Instead, these mammoth beauties travel to maintain their food supply, seeking out nutrient-rich waters across the globe to feed, mate, and raise their calves.


Green sea turtles

Silhouette of sea turtle swimming underwater in Galapagos national park - Animal nature conservation concept on excursion at " Los Tuneles" in Isabela island - Soft focus due to water density ViewApart / Getty Images

Green sea turtles have been returning to their birthplace in Mnemba Island, Zanzibar, for millions of years. Traveling for foraging, nesting, and reproduction purposes, they head toward warmer waters as the weather changes. This journey lasts from February to July, with thousands of turtles participating. Those in Hawaii and Australia get in on the action, as well, with Hawaiian sea turtles making an impressive 1,200-mile round-trip commute. In Australia, big numbers emerge, with over 64,000 turtles caught migrating by drones.


Emperor penguins

Emperor Penguin in Snow Hill Island Michel VIARD / Getty Images

Deep in the Antarctic tundra, emperor penguins walk up to 100 miles to reach their nesting colony every migration season. This routine kicks off in early March when the ice starts thickening around the penguins' natural habitat. Traveling this extensive journey, they return to the same breeding colony year after year. Every penguin in the colony participates, traveling together to find mates, reach more comfortable temperatures, and access a wider food supply.


Fruit bats

Flying foxes flying in the sky above mangrove at 17 island marine park in Riung, Flores, Indonesia Bruno Guerreiro / Getty Images

Considered the world's most monumental mammal migration, over 10 million fruit bats blanket the skies during this late October adventure, traveling across Central Africa to reach Zambia's Kasanka National Park. Headed here in search of seed-rich fruit, bats take over this space and consume while they can for approximately six weeks each year. Bats contribute to local ecology by distributing tree seeds along the way, making them unknowingly responsible for over 50% of African rainforest tree dispersal.


Monarch butterflies

Monarch Butterflies Spring Awakening in Mexico atosan / Getty Images

The 3,000-mile journey from Canada to Mexico is the world's most colorful, and watching millions of monarch butterflies soar across the skies is truly an unforgettable experience. Leaving their northern homes behind, these striking insects head south once winter hits, hiding out deep in the Sierra Madre mountains to shelter themselves from the cold. The journey takes generations to complete, with new butterflies rounding out the treks of their great-great-great-grandparents. While they return to the same trees every year, it's still a mystery how each generation knows exactly where to go.



Flamingoes on Lake Nakuru mantaphoto / Getty Images

A sea of pink grazes across the sky every October through March during the flamingos' annual migration. Traveling during the non-breeding period, they seek secure spots for future mating and find fresh food sources as their current supply gets depleted. A force over Tanzania's many lakes, this journey can encompass over 370 miles per day! Soaring at nearly 40 miles per hour, this seemingly endless stream of flamingos is truly a sight to behold.



Female dragonfly ("Red-veined Darter" - "Sympetrum fonscolombii") smiling at sunset in Venice, Italy Smartshots International / Getty Images

It wasn't until the early 21st century that scientists discovered just how far dragonflies travel. While species vary, the longest migration pattern features a roughly 8,7000-11,200-mile trek all the way from India to the Maldives and back, hitting the coast of Africa and the Seychelles islands along the way. One variety travels over 4,000 miles across the open ocean, and that's not including the land journey! This multi-generation trek makes up the longest insect migration in the world.



Caribou herd swimming across the Kokolik River. Mark Newman / Getty Images

Every year, caribou travel nearly 900 miles across North America, journeying toward their birthing fields while escaping fearsome predators such as wolves and grizzly bears. This gives caribou calves a more successful chance at early life in a comfortable environment, with more sources of fresh food available for foraging along the route. Every year, hundreds of thousands of animals participate in the journey, which is replicated in other caribou habitats around the world, from Asia to the Arctic.


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