We love traveling far away from our homes to find new sights, experience new cultures, relax and unwind, and a lot of things. Young generations are fond of the word “wanderlust” because of those reasons.
Animals do wander and they do go so far away from their homes to migrate, so not exactly wanderlust. Some animals like birds and whales do this. But these two animals, a frog and a fox, have travelled quite unusually far from their homes.
Cope’s gray tree frog
This species, which measures about 3 to 5 cm, doesn’t usually travel so far (maybe about a few miles but that’s it). People can rarely see them on the ground because these frogs spend most of their time in trees.
But this one Cope’s gray tree frog, which is from Georgia, has recently completed a roughly 3200 km journey to Canada and back. It began in Sandersville, a city in Central Georgia, where the frog “hitchhiked” into the cab of a cargo truck when the driver wasn’t looking. The frog stayed until the truck arrived in Mississauga, a city just outside Toronto.
When the driver found the frog, he trapped it in a container and brought it home with him. According to Toronto Wildlife Centre (TWC). His girlfriend contacted them, which confirmed the frog’s species after she emailed photos. Since the frog had come from out of the country, the TWC asked her to bring it in so they could try to help him get home.
Cope’s gray tree frogs have a wide range in eastern North America, but they tend to go farther south than other gray tree frogs. If this frog hadn’t been found and brought to safety, it “would not have fared well had it been left to the Canadian winter,” said TWC executive director Nathalie Karvonen.
Despite all that journey without food, TWC staff said that the frog was in good health. Once they got the frog, they placed it in a special container with insects, substrate, greenery and water. Meanwhile, they also contacted wildlife-rescue groups in Georgia, eventually finding metro Atlanta’s Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC), which agreed to help with the repatriation effort.
Returning this frog isn’t easy, though. Karvonen said the paperwork was a living nightmare. Although TWC does have experience returning wayward wildlife across the U.S. border. It once took months to send a snake back to Arkansas, she tells the AJC, and the center currently has a raccoon that gave birth while hidden in a truck during a 16-day ride from California.
TWC then hired a company called Reptiles Express to help with the frog’s customs and transportation paperwork. “We have a good relationship with the DNR, so we were able to quickly get approval,” said CNC wildlife director Kathryn Dudeck. Three weeks later, TWC staff drove the frog to New York, where he caught a cargo flight to Atlanta.
Not the only one
Cope’s gray tree frog isn’t the only animal that traveled unusually far. A young Arctic fox has walked 3,500 kilometers in just 76 days. Unlike the frog, this fox traveled by paw from Norway’s Svalbard islands to northern Canada. It astonished scientists who were tracking it.
Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) and Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) researchers are the one that recorded the fox’s adventures. They published the report in the journal Polar Research.
NPI researcher Eva Fuglei said, “We didn’t think it was true.” Researchers didn’t believe it at first because the fox couldn’t have hitched a ride on a boat, due to the region’s sea ice, and there weren’t many other likely explanations for how it could travel that far aside from its paws. “So we just had to keep up with what the fox did,” Fuglei continued.
Researchers have put a satellite tracking collar in March 2018 on the young fox and then released it into the wild on the western coast of Spitsbergen, the main island of the Svalbard archipelago. She initially went east east through Svalbard, then began hiking north across sea ice on the Arctic Ocean. It reached Greenland 21 days later, her tracking data showed, which was already an impressive expedition of about 1,512 km in three weeks.
But the fox didn’t stop there. She went on to walk another 1,900 km at a very fast pace, including a brisk trot across the Greenland ice sheet, before finding her way to Canada’s Ellesmere Island just 76 days after leaving Spitsbergen.
Even though the distance it traveled was unusual, the motivation isn’t. Researchers said that this fox journeyed that far because of hunger. Arctic foxes are known to travel long distances during leaner months in search of food. And while this fox walked farther than most, what really amazed the researchers was her speed.
This fox reportedly covered an average of 46.3 km per day, including a peak of 155 km in a single day as she crossed the Greenland ice sheet. Researchers wrote that speed is “the fastest movement rate ever recorded for this species”, stating that it’s 1.4 times faster than the previous one-day record of 113 km set by an adult male Arctic fox in Alaska.
As briefly mentioned before, this juvenile fox might have hurried through Greenland because of limited food options there. The tracking showed that it slowed down significantly a couple times during the journey, probably because it might have waited out bad weather by curling up in the snow or it finally found a good food source.
As of now, researchers don’t know what the fox is up to since her tracking collar stopped sending data in February 2019. The fox might have changed her diet in her new place because Ellesmere Island foxes mostly eat lemmings, unlike the seafood-centric diet of foxes in Svalbard.
The fox’s study is part of a broader, long-term research project called Climate-ecological Observatory for Arctic Tundra (COAT). It aims to find out how climate change impacts Arctic tundra food webs.
Arctic temperatures are rising at double the global average and it has caused havoc in the ecosystems, putting many species at threat. According to NASA satellite data, Arctic sea ice is now shrinking by about 13% per decade, and the 12 lowest seasonal minimums have all been recorded in the last 12 years.
Now, since sea ice keeps decreasing and we humans don’t do anything about it, fox populations in Svalbard, Iceland and on small islands in the Bering Strait will find this kind of journey unachievable, and they have to survive with only few things they’ve got.