SciSun: Why did the Chicken cross the Road?   Leave a comment

Probably, because she knew exactly where she was going. Many animals – from wildlife like the Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido); to the Pacific Tree Frog (Pseudacris regilla) to the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) seem to know how to return back home, without any help from maps or GPS locations or a friendly talking voice on their phones. The common Pigeon(Columba livia domestica) is well known for its ability to find its way over long distances, and there are many stories about the domestic dog (Canis familiaris), traveling hundreds of miles to get back home. House cats (Felis catus) seem to enjoy wondering for miles, yet still manage to be back in time for dinner. (And who came up with that name Felis CATUS? Really??).

This homing instinct is actually very common among animals; what’s not understood is how so many different species of animals, from so many different environments and locations, are able to cross long distances and difficult terrain to find their way home. While some animals seem to use landmarks, or even the sun, stars and moon, others smell their way; guide themselves through familiar sounds; or even have specialized magnetized cells in the brain that the animal can somehow use to identify magnetic north, like carrying around a compass. But because they’re built-in brain cells, this compass will never be lost at the bottom of a backpack.

It’s probable homing instinct was developed because of migration – wildlife traveling large distances, usually at the same time every year, due to climate, available food, or just because it’s always been that way. Some wildlife, conditioned to travel the same paths to the same places each year, become disoriented or confused when humans change the environment, and that wonderful meadow with fresh grass and safe places to hide has one year turned into the regions newest mall. And while lots of people like to migrate to malls, it doesn’t do much for wildlife who have been visiting that meadow for generations.

In fact, one of the few species that aren’t that good at finding their way is humans (except for that one annoying guy who always shows up just when you don’t want him around). Scientists believe humans must have the ability to navigate their way, and follow a path to where they want to go – if not, everyone would be wondering around, lost, and no one in history would have ever discovered anything (except for that guy-that-always-shows-up); but so far, scientists haven’t found any specific way or process or skill humans might have, when they’re trying to find their way home. We think most people just follow everyone else, until you happen to find yourself where you want to be. Or at least, on the other side of the road.

“...Go forward 100 feet; turn left; proceed 20 feet; you are at your destination......This can't be right.  Who got these directions?”

“…Go forward 100 feet; turn left; proceed 20 feet; you are at your destination……This can’t be right. Who got these directions?”


Michonne Says: I always know where I’m going. Whenever I get there, it’s just where I wanted to be.

Posted July 28, 2013 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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