How Dogs Find Their Way Home (Without a GPS).

Sniffing out adventure. Kevin Lobene/


A huge variety of animals use a number of different sensory systems in order to travel distances. Desert ants, for example, use environmental olfactory cues and odour plumes – clouds of scent dispersed by the wind moving odour molecules – to navigate their way both to food sources and back to their nests.

Honeybees appear able to recall routes to feeding sites when exposed to scent from that location. Other species such as sea turtles, some amphibians, spiny lobsters and birds are able to use magnetic positional information to migrate or orientate towards specific target locations. This latter ability to exploit geomagnetic information is significant, as it is unlikely to be affected by weather conditions, cycles of light and dark, seasonality or global position in the same way that other cues might be affected.

In addition to a ‘magnetic compass’, birds also appear to use sun and star ‘compasses’ for navigation. Parasitic nematode worms are capable of moving towards new hosts by responding to seismic vibrations and other species use vibrations for prey capture.