Incredible Journeys: Exploring the Wonders of Animal Navigation by David Barrie - review by Tom Fort

Tom Fort

They Don’t Even Have Smartphones

Incredible Journeys: Exploring the Wonders of Animal Navigation


Hodder & Stoughton 323pp £25 order from our bookshop

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).

These are but three of a multitude of examples presented by David Barrie in his consistently intriguing and occasionally startling survey of how the creatures of the world get around. Curious human minds have always been interested in the extraordinary efficiency of animals of all kinds at securing

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