JUN 24, 2016 11:13 AM PDT

How Animals Map Their Way Home without a GPS

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

We've all heard of incredible stories of lost pets traveling hundreds of miles in new territory and eventually finding their way home. And we've all marveled at how birds know where to migrate when the season changes. For the most part, even though the human brain is purportedly bigger than these animals, we are not so gifted with such natural cartographic abilities. What innate senses do these animals have that allow them to find their way, sans GPS?

Animals that can track a path rely on their senses. Some animals are able to pick up on scent cues and trails, which they use to lead them back to their original location. Dogs and rats are able to do this quite well. For other animals, like worms, chemical scent trails provide them a map. Arguably one of the most famed natural navigators, birds can detect the magnetic field of the Earth to orient them to North and South.

On top of these innate abilities, it seems that animals can form memories of their location and identify where they want to be. Perhaps this is why dogs can find their way home even in new locations that lack scent trails. Or perhaps there are other special senses that scientists just haven't uncovered yet. Watch the video to find out!
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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