Tom Fort

They Don’t Even Have Smartphones

Incredible Journeys: Exploring the Wonders of Animal Navigation


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As I edge towards my dotage, I notice that one of my several faculties in steady decline is my sense of direction. I am now the sort of sad person for whom getting around London represents a significant challenge. I emerge from the Tube station staring intently at the Google map on my phone and walk hesitantly towards the first road junction. I look up to find that the street name is not the right one. I plod back to the station, stare some more at my map and work out at last that I must have come out of the wrong exit and gone east instead of west. I then endeavour, with varying degrees of success, to reorient myself.

But even at my sharpest I was no match for the sweat bee, which forages in the blackness of the tropical night and finds its way unerringly back to its nest in a hollowed-out stick, or the digger wasp, which locates the tiny entrance to its burrow from miles away, without hesitation or deviation. I might have been a match for the Australian box jellyfish, which navigates capably using landmarks above the surface of the water despite having no brain (though it is equipped with twenty-four eyes).

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