Sense of Location: The Mental Map
Internal Rand McNally
consider how mental maps of geographic landmarks can help migrating
animals stay on the correct course.
How do migrating animals manage to find their way to wintering or
breeding grounds that may be thousands of miles away? Scientists are
just beginning to understand how some animals' map and compass systems
might work together. For instance, scientists think that monarch butterflies
may use the angle of the sun along the horizon combined with their internal
body clock to maintain their flight path. Some birds are believed to
be sensitive to the Earth's magnetic field. Research also suggests that
many animals seem to memorize (or instinctively recognize) landmarks
and the compass bearings that connect them.
can be seen (the ocean, a mountain range, a bend in a river, one of
the Great Lakes), heard (ocean surf, deep sounds), felt (prevailing
wind direction), and even smelled (unique smells in a river).
Ask students how they think animals find their way when migrating. Accept all
answers at this point. Ask, How do you find your way home from school (or
elsewhere)? Do you use a map? Use their responses as a springboard for
- Ask students
to visualize a mental map of the route to their homes. Ask, What
landmarks do you remember? How do you know when and where to turn? Then
have them draw maps of their routes home and include all important
the class into pairs. Taking turns, one student should describe his
or her mental map while the partner attempts to draw it. When each
partner has had a turn, they should exchange drawings. Ask, How
close was your drawing to your partner's original map?
a topographical map of your region, prompt students to discuss important
landmarks that migratory animals might use as they pass through your
part of the world (this could include mountains, rivers, stretches
of forest, sounds of the ocean).
give students these directions: Choose one of the Journey North
migratory species. Draw a map that extends from its wintering grounds
to its summering grounds. Include major landmarks that you think
could be important to the animal. (You can have older students
give the compass bearings that connect these landmarks.) Think
about the senses that might be important to your selected animal
on its journey.
Connections — Discussion and Journaling Questions
it difficult to make a mental map of the route to your home? What
makes it easy or difficult to follow someone else's directions?
sense is the most important for creating your mental map? Why?
senses do you think are most important to other animals? Give examples.
clues are just one of the means some animals use to stay on track
during their migration. What other types of clues or instincts do
you think they might use? How could we find out?
conduct research on this last question, or share the background information
Check that students understand that mental maps of landmarks are one of
the ways in which some migratory animals stay on course.
How to use
mental maps to organize information about people, places, and environments.