10 of the Most Epic Animal Migrations

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By Taylor Shea, Reader's Digest


A long way from home

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By land, air, and sea these animals that migrate travel hundreds or even thousands of miles for love, food, and shelter. Some migrations take so long that multiple generations go by on the trip, but they still end up exactly where they were headed. Unlike the amazing animals that are only found in one place, these traveling creatures are seen at every step of the trail by people across the world.


Leatherback Sea Turtles: Travel 10,000 miles or more

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Sea turtles are well known for their amazing migrations, but among them, it's the leatherback turtles that undertake the longest journey. Sometimes traveling 10,000 miles or more between breeding and feeding grounds looking for jellyfish. Leatherbacks can be found as far north as Norway and as far south as New Zealand. A thick layer of fat gives the creature's shell its leathery appearance and allows the animals to tolerate much colder water than other turtles. Every two to three years females migrate to coastal shores to lay their eggs, often returning to the same beach where they were born. The leatherback sea turtle isn't endangered, but it is declining and could make its way on the list soon.


Arctic Tern: Travels 1.5 million miles in a lifetime

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Scientists developed a device small enough to attach to the tiny tern, and were shocked to discover that it recorded the bird traveling an average of 44,000 miles a year. Terns start near the North Pole and journey to the South Pole, then return to their breeding grounds in the northern Arctic. With this pace, it's estimated that the average tern will travel around 1.5 million miles in its lifetime, equivalent to three trips to the moon and back.


Semipalmated Sandpiper: Non-stop journey South

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Even though semipalmated sandpipers are small their animal migration journey is long. Every year, thousands of flocks of about 300,000 birds gather in North England and eastern Canada to fly south for the winter. They travel nearly 2,000 miles non-stop all the way to the South American coast.


Straw-Colored Fruit Bat: Millions sleep in one tree

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Ten million bats migrate from the Congo to Zambia’s Kasanka National Park to eat the park's abundant supply of musuku fruit. Strangely, the bats choose to occupy only one acre of the 10,000-acre forest. Millions of bats, together weighing up to ten tons, sleep in one tree, which scientists say is the highest density mass of warm-blooded mammals on the planet.


Wildebeest: A migration that's two million strong

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The Great Wildebeest Migration is the largest migration of land mammals; from July through October, two million of these animals that migrate leave Tanzania and head for Kenya which is 500 miles away. Sadly, about 250,000 of the creatures die, often while crossing the crocodile-infested Mara River or from an attack on the other side by lions or hyenas waiting for them.


Monarch Butterfly: Migration happens over several generations

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The monarch butterfly's migration is so long that it takes four or five generations of the winged creature to travel from their Mexican wintering grounds to the Northern United States. As many as 300 million butterflies make the journey each year.


Humpback whale: Longest mammal migration

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Humpback whales make the longest migration of any mammal in the world. In the summer months, humpback whales will feed in colder waters up north. Then, in the winter months, whales travel closer to the equator for mating and to give birth. Some humpback whales will travel over 9,000 miles round trip during their migration. Their large, scooped tails help them to travel through the water quickly. Humpback whales can journey from Alaska to Hawaii in as little as 36 days!


Salmon: Two long migrations

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Typically, salmon will only migrate two times in their lives. First, they migrate from the freshwater streams where they were born to the ocean. Then, as adults, they migrate back to their natural stream to reproduce. The distance from their home stream to the ocean can be hundreds of miles and then once they've reached the ocean, they travel up to an additional 1,000 miles to reach their feeding grounds.


Dragon Flies: Many generations north to south

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Dragonflies have a similar animal migration to monarch butterflies; it takes at least three generations to make one year's migratory loop. The first generation of green darner dragonflies emerges in the southern United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean from February to May. They travel north and some reach New England as early as March. They lay eggs, die in the region, and the new generation heads back South from July until late October. The third generation emerges around November and spends their entire lives in the south for the winter and their offspring start the next cycle north.


Caribou: Traveling to escape the cold

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Caribou or reindeer is another species that has an impressive animal migration. During the winter months, they migrate south to escape harsh, cold conditions, and during the warmer months, they migrate north in search of food. Throughout the year they can travel around 1,600 miles. They travel in large herds covering a lot of ground in one day, but adults eat around 12 pounds of food a day to keep them moving.

See more at: Reader's Digest

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