Nature's Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation

Nature's Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation

Nature's Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation

Nature's Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation


We know that animals cross miles of water, land, and sky with pinpoint precision on a daily basis. But it is only in recent years that scientists have learned how these astounding feats of navigation are actually accomplished. With colorful and thorough detail, Nature's Compass explores the remarkable methods by which animals find their way both near home and around the globe. Noted biologist James Gould and popular science writer Carol Gould delve into the elegant strategies and fail-safe backup systems, the invisible sensitivities and mysterious forces, and incredible mental abilities used by familiar and rare species, as they investigate a multitude of navigation strategies, from the simple to the astonishing.

The Goulds discuss how animals navigate, without instruments and training, at a level far beyond human talents. They explain how animals measure time and show how the fragile monarch butterfly employs an internal clock, calendar, compass, and map to commence and measure the two-thousand-mile annual journey to Mexico--all with a brain that weighs only a few thousandths of an ounce. They look at honey bees and how they rely on the sun and mental maps to locate landmarks such as nests and flowers. And they examine whether long-distance migrants, such as the homing pigeon, depend on a global positioning system to let them know where they are. Ultimately, the authors ask if the disruption of migratory paths through habitat destruction and global warming is affecting and endangering animal species.

Providing a comprehensive picture of animal navigation and migration, Nature's Compass decodes the mysteries of this extraordinary aspect of natural behavior.


… and they spend their winters upon the moon.

This was the deduction of the “person of learning and piety” who published a treatise in 1703 on

The probable solution of this question: whence come the
stork and the turtle, and the crane and the swallow, when
they know and observe the appointed time of their com
ing—or where those birds do probably make their recess
and abode, which are absent from our climate at some cer
tain times and seasons of the year?

The idea that migrants might overwinter on the moon may have fallen out of fashion, but not our sense of awe at the seemingly effortless way many animals come and go as they choose. Migrating animals have always been a mystery, appearing unexpectedly and vanishing again, en route from an unidentified home to an unknown destination—a living allegory of human existence. As the eighth-century scholar and historian the Venerable Bede (731) wrote in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, “The life of man is but a moment of existence.”

Consider the swift flight of a sparrow through the room in
which we sit at supper in winter, while darkness and a snow-

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