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Animal Navigation: Magnetic Sense

The learning resources presented in these web pages explore the topic of animal navigation and migration, why animals migrate and the innate senses some animals have that aid in this process.

About the Learning Resources


The journeys that animals make in both migration and homing are amazing. From the multi‐ generational migration of monarch butterflies to the annual migrations of whales through the southern oceans, each journey brings enormous challenges and expenditure of energy ‐ yet overall, is beneficial to the species.


Here in New Zealand we are familiar with migratory birds such as the kūaka (bar‐tailed godwit) with its international migration between New Zealand and Alaska, as well as species such as the ngutuparore (wrybill) which migrate within New Zealand.


Understanding how and why animals make these journeys has challenged scientists for many years. The energy expenditure and risk associated with migration is enormous. Yet we know that in a biological system this behaviour would not have evolved unless the advantage outweighed the risk. Understanding how animals navigate these journeys involves looking into the sensory perception of each species. One of the most fascinating is magnetic sense, known to be used by bacteria, insects and animals. This tells us that it is a sense that evolved very early.   


These resources will encourage you to explore what is known about magnetic sense and how scientists go about finding out more about how animals detect, process and use information about the Earth’s magnetic field.

Resource Links


What is Magnetic Sense?

A page for teachers and senior students summarising the key concepts associated with animal navigation.



Understanding Magnetic Sense: Case Study

Read this case study to learn about how scientists used animal models to learn more about magnetic sense.



Discussion Questions

Resource questions designed to further discussion on the topic of animal navigation. 


Question and Answer

Challenge Questions

Further questions on the subject of animal navigation designed to stimulate more in-depth conversation and learning.



Seminar Recording

An in-stream version of the seminar series the resources on these web pages originate from.



Seminar Paper

Download the seminar paper.



Links to Curriculum and Assessment of Learning

Information for teachers on how these resources link to current curriculum objectives.



Further Resources

Additional resources for teachers to further understand the resources presented in these web pages.