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Nature’s Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation – Book Review

Newly-hatched sea turtle at Hacienda Baru in Costa Rica.

Migration patterns, natal homing, and daily activities by animals all require significant navigation capacities. In Nature’s Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation, Dr. James L. Gould and Carol Grant Gould explore the mathematical and physical underpinnings of what it takes for these species to successfully navigate.

We observe throughout the year how animals traverse their surroundings with pinpoint precision yet we understand little of how each animal learns this behavior and then communicates this learned behavior to others. With clouded skies, unknown territory, inability to observe the stars, at times these species perform spectacular feats of navigation that we would be unable to perform without the most sophisticated navigation tools.

The Goulds thoroughly examine and review literature from various fields – from cognitive psychology to physics – describing the remarkable characteristics these species exhibit in navigation and communication. Parallel to these species’ abilities, as documented by the Goulds, unfortunately have been our human inability to “believe” the scientific data that describes the capacity of these species to navigate. In fact, in many instances it has taken generations of scientific “naysayers” to finally accept the data describing relatively nondescript events.

For example, while it was observed scientifically in the 1940’s that domesticated dogs use both their sense of smell and memory to navigate through a maze they had previously observed to find food, it has taken a couple generations of scientists to accept that dogs can co-locate food through smell and memory of a maze.

Nature’s Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation is an excellent resource for interested arm-chair ecologists and also undergraduate students who wish to understand the scientific history of analysis of how animal navigation occurs. At the same time, Nature’s Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation is also an excellent book describing how sometimes it is difficult for Home sapiens to accept the cognitive intelligence and capacity of others who reside in our animal kingdom even when we are presented with the bare facts supporting these obvious assertions.

James L. Gould is professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University. Carol Grant Gould is a science writer who has published widely. Together, the Goulds have written nine earlier books, including The Animal Mind and Animal Architects.

How to order:

Nature’s Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation

Hardcover: 294 Pages

Publisher: Princeton University Press

ISBN: 9780691140452

Authors: Dr. James L. Gould and Carol Grant Gould

Gabriel Thoumi, CFA is a frequent contributor to

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