Nature Olympics : Long Distance Track and Field

In honour of the summer Olympics, we thought we’d profile a few of our own natural athletes – the fauna that can be found in Ontario present some incredible contenders! If Mother Nature was to pit some of her sports players against humans, we suspect our multi-legged and feathered friends would be the ones winning all the cereal endorsements.

Long-distance track and field is where some of nature’s athletes excel. Of course, rather than a single-day event, these sports are essential to the ongoing survival of the species – a perfect impetus to excel at endurance movement!

Monarchs are the only butterfly to migrate in a loop north and south like birds. The entire route is made through successive generations rather than one individual heading south and returning north. Nonetheless, an impressive distance is covered from Ontario to Michoacán, Mexico – some 4000 km or 2500 miles! Driving from Toronto to the Michoacán border without stopping would require over 40 hours, while walking would take over 750 hours!  Talk about endurance. Monarch populations are at risk due to diminishing larval food sources. Common Milkweed is the only source of food for hatching eggs. If the butterflies cannot locate plants due to land use change or weed control programmes then the next generation of butterflies won’t happen.

Discovery Channel Short: Monarch Butterflies Overwintering in Michoacan (click link to view video on the DC website)

The Arctic Tern. RSPB has a good website, albeit solely UK-oriented, where you can listen to the call and watch a video of the terns. Click on the image to visit.

Another long-distance star is the Arctic Tern, a winter snowbird that migrates around the world, summering in northern Ontario. It has the longest-known migration of any animal covering over 70 000 km (44 000 miles) each year. Habitat loss and diminishing food stocks in the southern hemisphere are starting to be noticed as affecting populations; however, the bird is not of concern as far as conservation status. Arctic Terns mate for life and frequently return to the same nesting grounds. Imagine spending that long on a road trip with your partner!

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