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AKIPRESS.COM - Large migrations are some of nature's greatest spectacles. Wildebeest and zebra chase the rains through the Mara ecosystem every year, monarch butterflies trace a path from Mexico to Canada and back, and tiny songbirds fly nonstop for days at a time. And now scientists are starting to figure out how they know where to go, and when, National Geographic reports.
Some of these animals, they’ve found, have their migration pathways written into their genes. A songbird hatched in a laboratory, having seen nothing of the natural world, still attempts to begin migration at the right time of year and in the right cardinal direction.
The existence of collective information and knowledge, that can be passed from older animals to younger ones, is a form of “culture,” researchers explain. And when animals learn as a result of social interaction and the transfer of this information, that’s a type of cultural exchange—as opposed to genetic.
On the mountains and plains of North America, massive herds of ungulates—hoofed creatures, like caribou, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep—migrate from high altitude breeding grounds to warmer, lower altitudes during the harsh winter, following the growth of new greenery. Ecologists call this “surfing the green wave,” and the new study finds that bighorn sheep and moose have to learn how to surf.