From Monarch Butterflies to Gray Whales, These Are the Great Migrations of the World

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The longest annual migration that Americans typically make is from a long-term residence in the Northeast to a winter home in Florida or somewhere in the Sunbelt. But this trip, typically undertaken for comfort, pales in comparison to many of the migrations that birds, fish, mammals and even insects make each year to survive. From green darner dragonflies, which take three generations to complete their migration loop, to the bar-headed geese who fly over Himalayan peaks, to the wildebeest and zebras of Tanzania who migrate in a giant loop together, take a look at some of these most impressive of animal migrations.

Monarch Butterfly'
North America

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The only butterflies that make a two-way migration, monarchs travel up to 3,000 miles from their birthplace in Canada to their wintering grounds in southern California and central Mexico. They use air currents to help them travel the long distances from October to late March.

Arctic Tern
Arctic → Antarctic

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This tiny, determined bird makes the longest migration of any animal in the world—traveling 44,000 miles each year between Greenland and Antarctica. By traveling back and forth between the two hemispheres, arctic terns experience two summers, and they get more daylight than any other animal.

Bar-headed Geese

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These birds baffle scientists by making the highest migration on earth. Each year, they fly over the Himalayas, exerting impressive amounts of energy at extremely low-oxygen altitudes. They feed and spend warm winters in India before making their long flight up to Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia to breed in the summer.

Straw-Colored Fruit Bat

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In the biggest mammal migration in the world, 8 to 10 million straw-colored fruit bats journey to Zambia's Kasanka National Park each year to feast on the abundance of fruit that grows there. They come from all over Africa, and their flight is a vital environmental process because as they cross the continent, they disperse seeds.


CUL_Map_Migrations_ Wildebeest

These members of the antelope family live on the Serengeti Plains of Tanzania (and a small section of southwest Kenya). Every year, over 1.5 million wildebeest migrate in a giant loop as the seasons change. This is the largest mammal migration on land, and it is considered one of the seven natural wonders of Africa.

Leatherback Sea Turtle
Atlantic populations: Caribbean → U.S. East Coast → Canada
Pacific populations: Indonesia & Malaysia → California → Alaska

CUL_Map_Migrations_The Leatherback Turtle
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The leatherback sea turtle is one of the most migratory animals on earth. There are populations in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and they can swim up to 10,000 miles annually as they look for the jellyfish they feed on and move from nesting to breeding areas.

Green Darner Dragonfly
North America

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Don Farrall/Getty

It takes three generations for these fascinating insects to complete their full migration loop: one generation travels up to Canada and the northern U.S. in the spring, the next travels south—even as far as Mexico—in the fall and the third stays in the south over the winter.

Atlantic Salmon

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These fish are born in freshwater rivers in Norway and migrate to saltwater in adulthood, where they travel as far as Iceland. When it is time to spawn, they travel back upstream to the river where they were born, using their strong sense of smell and the earth's magnetic field to guide them.

Gray Whale
Baja, Mexico → Bering Sea

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Weighing in at around 90,000 pounds, these huge creatures make the longest migration of any mammal. They birth in tropical Mexican waters, and as the days start to heat up in the summer, they swim all the way up the coast to their feeding grounds in the Alaskan waters of the Bering Sea—an approximately 10,000-mile round trip.