Humans use smell to get us excited about pie before we actually put it in our mouths, and not much else. Our superheroes have X-ray vision and super hearing, but the ability to sniff out clues is usually left to cartoon dogs. But that’s just because we can’t imagine what the world smells like to a bloodhound. When we walk down the street, our senses tell us who’s doing what at that moment, and which one of them smells like urine. A bloodhound’s nose allows it to perceive that same street across time.
Part of the reason for this is because, despite what some scientists would have you believe , predators are scavengers as well, and the ability to smell a dead body close to 20 miles away goes a long way toward helping get a free meal. Since bears scare the shit out of every other living thing (except maybe wolverines), being able to smell someone else’s kill is like being a 250-pound bully in eighth grade; no one is going to fuck with you when you walk up to him and take his food. Not even entire packs of wolves.
Internal GPS tops the wish list of anyone who’s ever found himself stranded in a deserted wasteland, right after “I wish I could teleport everywhere” and “I wish this deserted wasteland were made of pizza.” Pigeons can leave the wishing to the humans and focus on important things like defecating on windshields, thanks to deposits of magnetite just above their beaks that make their heads work like living, thinking compasses. Science spent years experimenting with little magnetic pigeon helmets to figure this out. We bring that up to drive home just how eerily impressive it is that there’s one creature whose navigational abilities science still can’t explain.
The monarch butterfly’s northward migration every spring looks like the sort of poorly planned bullshit you expect from mass animal migrations, with hundreds of millions spreading out across North America, presumably wherever they damn well please.
In August, they fly back south, and things get spooky. First of all, there’s the fact that all hundred million fly directly to the same tiny patch of trees in Mexico 1/100th the size of Manhattan’s Central Park. So what? It’s not like you can have too many butterflies, right?
But the truly baffling part is that monarch butterflies live only for a few months. That means the migration spans generations. Every August, hundreds of millions of butterflies wake up from caterpillardom and know how to find the exact patch of trees that their great-great-grandfathers left six months earlier. This would be like being born knowing exactly how to get to the home your great-great-grandfather was born in, and your mother never told you and you don’t even know that he exists or what a great-great grandfather even is because you’re a fucking butterfly.