Spring in the Northern Hemisphere is time for what may be part of the biggest migration of land animals on the planet. Look up! An invisible insect migration could be taking place overhead.
Scientists recently finished a 10-year study of insect migrations in the southern part of the United Kingdom. Some 3.5 trillion aphids, moths, flies and other arthropods (including spiders) were migrating high overhead each year. The total weight of all those critters flying over the United Kingdom alone is equivalent to some 30 blue whales swimming high in the sky.
Migrations of insects do not look the same as bird migrations. Birds usually make roundtrip flights — from one location to another and back — each year. Insects have much shorter lives. As a result, their migrations usually are a one-way trip from their home to a new destination. The next generation of insects might make a return trip back to their parents’ home — or just to the next stop on some journey.
Insects would seem to be at mercy of the wind. But scientists showed medium-size and larger insects could migrate seasonally in the same direction, regardless of wind direction. Perhaps these animals have specialized body parts that give them an advantage when flying against the wind, the researchers now speculate.
Insects are a fundamental part of many ecosystems. Having a better understanding of how and where they move can help scientists learn more about the animals that depend upon them, such as songbirds.
Approximately what percentage of large insects traveled west?
In what direction did the largest percentage of medium-size insects travel?
Based on the data presented in this figure, if you studied the direction that 500 medium-sized insects migrated in spring by day, about how many would you expect to travel northwest? Approximately how many would you expect to travel east?
What do you think about how the researchers presented their data in this visualization? What is easy to understand? What is confusing?
How else might you present these data?
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