• jon

    Posted 1157 days ago

  • The New Yorker's scientific articles are almost always excellent because they target a perfect audience: people who are interested in the scientific world but who have very little formal training or experience in it. I'm sure this article would seem dull for a biologist, but for the average person, it's a really interesting look at the curious topic of animal navigation.

    I liked Schulz's constant comparisons to humans. Talking about the navigation of birds, she says:

    At the peak of migration season, more than a million of them might pass overhead every hour after dark, yet they are no more a part of a flock than you are when driving alone in your S.U.V. on I-95 during Thanksgiving weekend.

    I appreciate the comparison of animal tendencies to our own, as well as comparing the lack of human abilities to the exceptional ones of some animals. Another interesting sections was the following:

    If you trap Cataglyphis ants at a food source, build little stilts for some of them, give others partial amputations, and set them all loose again, they will each head back to their nest—but the longer-legged ones will overshoot it, while the stubby-legged ones will fall short. That’s because they navigate by counting their steps, as if their pin-size brains contained a tiny Fitbit. (On the next journey, they’ll all get it right, because they recalibrate each time.) Similarly, honeybees adjust their airspeed in response to headwinds and tailwinds in order to maintain a constant ground speed of fifteen miles per hour—which means, the Goulds suggest, that by tracking their wing beats the bees can determine how far they have travelled.

    The curious thing here is that humans have this same ability, but we just use devices to do it. It makes me wonder that if some point in their evolution, ants or bees used an external mechanism to do this counting and then over time, that was incorporated into their biological makeup. I don't think my thought as any scientific basis, but it just seems interesting to me that for some reason, animals may have these built in capabilities while humans use devices to do them. It definitely makes evolution seem pretty incredible.