If animals had frequent flyer mile points to rack up, they’d definitely put us humans to shame. Creatures ranging from giant wildebeests to teeny tiny ants really know how to get around, sometimes traveling at incredible speeds. Well-traveled animals that go amazing distances do so on foot, hoof, wing, or fin. They journey high in the clouds, low underwater, and over varying terrain. They travel in packs that are sometimes even mixed with multiple different species.
Some animals that go the farthest on Earth travel the equivalent distance of the moon and back in a lifetime. Others triple that number if you can imagine. Their migratory efforts are often fueled by instinctual needs like food, shelter, mating, birthing, and ideal weather conditions. Some of these mystifying creatures spend 90% of their lives on the go. While enroute, they risk life and limb.
Their compass is the sun, their motivation is survival and their internal guide is none other than Earth’s incomparable magnetic field. Here’s a look at these amazing animals that travel incredible distances.
Distance Traveled: 1,800 miles per year.
The award for the longest land mammal migration on the entire African continent goes to the plains zebra, following a study conducted in 2014. These striped, social animals travel by the thousands, occasionally teaming up with other migrating animal packs like wildebeests along the way. The extended journey consists of for to five hour daily romps in a north and then southbound direction and it may have been elongated due to manmade obstacles that make food scarce in and near their region.
Despite the zebra’s willingness to travel, this regal looking subspecies is being hunted for its illustrious coat far and wide and its population seems to dwindle as its journey for food takes on epic proportions. On average, plains zebras live to about the age of 20, making for 36,000 miles of travel in a lifetime.
Distance Traveled: 1,800 miles per year.
Tied with the plains zebra for distance but certainly in a class of their own, the Serengeti Wildebeest’s expeditions are well-documented wonders. Every year, approximately 1.4 million wildebeests make an 1,800 mile trek for the sake of migration. Such excitement surrounds the journey that it has actually been unofficially referred to as "The World Cup of Wildlife." If you’ve never witnessed millions of wildebeests crossing lakes and trekking through a wide variety of terrain, it’s an event worth tuning in to. Pictured above is a bit of the action as zebras and wildebeests set their sights for new destinations, traveling separately yet together.
Distance Traveled: 2,200 miles per year.
The monarch butterfly migration is surely a sight to behold. Both beautiful and terrifying at the same time, this captivating journey features tens of thousands of resplendently colored butterflies soaring tens of thousands of feet in the air, all of them clustered together and taking over large regions of the autumn sky. Their approximated 2,200 mile flight is the longest and most unique of all butterfly migrations. Interestingly enough, they tend to rely on the Earth’s magnetic poles for navigational direction, traveling to the same trees year after year despite the fact that different butterflies are making the journey. On average, they clock in about 265 miles of travel in a single day. Talk about spreading your wings to fly.
Distance Traveled: 3,106 miles per year.
Are you familiar with the expression the grass is always greener on the other side? Well, while you might take this saying figuratively, the caribou actually travel a little over 3,100 miles a year in search of greener grass. Where do they find this so-called greener grass? After quite a treacherous trek, it appears from under piles of melting snow. The caribou's migration is highly dependent upon the help of the sun for both travel times and navigation. Due to such rigorous travel routines, caribou calves are forced to adapt quickly and they learn to become fierce runners within hours of their birth, sticking by their mothers sides as they tackle everything from river crossings to impending predators. Caribou travel in packs for safety. Unlike most of the animals on this list, caribou have been observed traveling different distances every year, making for an unpredictable amount of mileage in a lifetime.