Homing abilities can be used to find the way back to home in a migration. It is often used in reference to going back to a breeding spot seen years before, as in the case of salmon. Homing abilities can also be used to go back to familiar territory when displaced over long distances, such as with the red-bellied newt.
Some animals use true navigation for their homing. This means in familiar areas they will use landmarks such as roads, rivers or mountains when flying, or islands and other landmarks while swimming. However, this only works in familiar territory. Homing pigeons, for example, will often navigate using familiar landmarks, such as roads. Sea turtles will also use landmarks to orient themselves.
Many animals use magnetic orientation based on the Earth's magnetic field to find their way home. This is usually used together with other methods, such as a sun compass, as in bird migration and in the case of turtles. This is also commonly used when no other methods are available, as in the case of lobsters, which live underwater, and mole rats, which home through their burrows.
Topographic memory, memory of the contours surrounding the destination, is one common method for navigation. This is mainly used by animals with less intelligence, such as molluscs. Limpets use this to find their way back to the home scrape; although whether this is true homing has been disputed.
- BBC News: Pigeons reveal map-reading secret
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