Nature's Compass

Nature's Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation

James L. Gould
Carol Grant Gould
Series: Science Essentials
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 320
Stable URL:
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Nature's Compass
    Book Description:

    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 Compassexplores 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 Compassdecodes the mysteries of this extraordinary aspect of natural behavior.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4166-0
    Subjects: Zoology, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface (pp. ix-xii)
    James L. Gould and Carol Grant Gould
  4. Acknowledgments (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Chapter 1 Navigating—Problems and Strategies (pp. 1-18)

    It was a navigator’s worst nightmare. Shortly after midnight on a cloudy September night in the middle of the North Atlantic, the ship was suddenly attacked. Out of nowhere the screeching and wailing ghosts of long-dead sailors swept through the rigging, terrifying the superstitious seamen and drowning the captain’s shouted orders. The panicking crew knew instantly that they had trespassed on the infamous Isles of Devils, haunted by the souls of the thousands of crewmen who had perished on the treacherous shoals. But by the navigator’s reckoning, they were far to the west of the legendary death trap.

    Within minutes,...

  6. Chapter 2 When and Where (pp. 19-34)

    Taxes are powerful forces that drive much of behavior, particularly of microorganisms. But a monarch butterfly heading south toward an isolated mountain peak in Mexico a thousand miles away can do much more. It will steer to the right of the sun at 9 a.m., toward the sun at noon, well to the left of the sun at 3 p.m., and so on, always heading due south. This remarkable behavior is commonplace among animals, and is even more elaborate than it sounds. The exact direction of south relative to the sun depends not just on the time of day, but...

  7. Chapter 3 A Matter of Time (pp. 35-68)

    Honey bees evolved in the tropics and spread throughout Africa, Asia, and Europe; Columbus brought the first honey bees to the Americas. Honey was for millennia the only sweetener that could be kept immune from spoilage, so it is no surprise that colonies of people brought colonies of bees to their new homes. Their wax provided candles, and their well-ordered hives were models for society. No wonder humans have spent so much time perfecting our understanding (and mythology) of this one kind of insect. And the payoff has been enormous; honey bees have yielded up secrets far, far beyond the...

  8. Chapter 4 Insect Compasses (pp. 69-116)

    Anyone who has dug in the wet sand near the tide line will have encountered sandhoppers, tiny crustaceans that hop wildly when threatened. Sandhoppers are usually out foraging only at night, feeding on detritus the waves have left behind, having anticipated both dusk and the ebbing tide. In preparation for an incoming tide or dawn they burrow back down into the sand.

    The approach of a predator makes them flee toward the safety of the ocean. In the daytime, unearthed from their hiding places by foraging shorebirds turning over the sand for worms and shellfish, they make a run for...

  9. Chapter 5 Vertebrate Compasses (pp. 117-154)

    Though the small, orange-breasted European robin is a popular symbol of Christmas, many populations actually overwinter not in Europe, but in northern Africa. Robins are famous for their friendliness toward humans, but also for the males’ readiness to fight other males—or anything else orange—in the spring. The robin is a classic instance of how internal timers orchestrate behavior. In the winter, as the days grow longer after the solstice, cells in the brain start secreting hormones such as prolactin. These hormones cause migratory robins to begin eating more and building up fat stores, well in advance of any...

  10. Chapter 6 Piloting and Inertial Navigation (pp. 155-184)

    Wolfgang Köhler, a founder of the school of Gestalt psychology, is honored by animal behaviorists for his work on the mentality of apes. Given novel problems (a banana hung out of reach overhead, for instance), some of his chimpanzees could use tools such as sticks, boxes, poles, and the like to reach the food. Tellingly, they had to have played with the objects in the past before they could employ them successfully as tools under the pressure of the moment. Köhler saw in this an element of planning, an ability to use seemingly irrelevant information gathered in another context sometime...

  11. Chapter 7 The Map Sense (pp. 185-226)

    The Arctic hosts immense populations of breeding birds exploiting the long days and the brief but astonishing productivity that the extended sunlight of summer makes possible. Two species of large shorebirds illustrate some of the extremes in bird migration. With wingspans of about 2.5 feet, these birds are large enough to carry transmitters, so researchers have been able to track their peregrinations.

    The bar-tailed godwit nests on the Arctic coast and tundra, probing the mud and marshy ground with its long bill for mussels and worms. There are perhaps 100,000 bar-tails in Alaska alone. They abandon their young before fledging,...

  12. Chapter 8 Migration and the Future: Conservation and Extinction (pp. 227-244)

    Why do animals migrate? For the southern right whales we studied as graduate students, the answer is clear; during the winter the Antarctic ice sheet expands, covering the summer feeding grounds. Though the rich concentration of krill is still there, air-breathing mammals can no longer safely feed. And because whales are warm blooded, lingering in frigid water waiting for the return of spring is metabolically expensive. Instead, the right whales make annual pilgrimages to traditional coastal sites in the temperate zone 2000 miles to the north.

    For the group of about 60 whales we worked with, the winter refuge is...

  13. Bibliography (pp. 245-280)
  14. Illustration Credits (pp. 281-288)
  15. Index (pp. 289-294)

You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.


Log in to your personal account or through your institution.