Which Animal Gets Most Daylight?

Mr. Spock would appreciate the answer to this question, because it’s completely logical. To get the most daylight, you need to go where the sun never sets!

During northern summer, the sun never sets in the far north. After all, there’s a reason it’s called the land of the midnight sun. Likewise, during southern summer, Antarctica is bathed in permanent daylight.

The Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea) enjoys the best of both of these photon-rich worlds.

It migrates from the northern polar regions to the coast of Antarctica and back north again every year. In doing so, it enjoys two summers a year, and gets more annual daylight than any other wild animal. Lucky bird!

Advancing GPS and miniaturization technologies have enabled scientists to fit tracking devices weighing less than 1.5 grams to Arctic terns’ legs to discover the amazing distances these middle-sized birds fly every year.

Arctic Tern

An Arctic Tern on the island of Inner Farne, Northumberland, UK. Image: Gordon Hatton

Quick Facts about Arctic Tern Migrations

  • The average distance flown every year by an Arctic tern is 71,000 km (44,000 miles). At almost twice around the world, this is, by a long way, the longest distance traveled by a migrating animal.
  • The record for the most distance traveled in one year by any single Arctic tern stands at a phenomenal 91,000 km, which is 57,000 miles.
  • Many Arctic terns live to be more than 30 years old. In a 35 year lifetime an Arctic tern could fly an incredible 2.5 million km, which is over 1.5 million miles. That’s over 6 x the Earth-Moon distance. If only they could claim frequent flyer points!
  • On their migrations, Arctic terns fly an average of 520 km (323 miles) a day.
Arctic Tern Habitats and Migration Routes

Arctic Tern Habitats and Migration Routes

Of course, as a result of our own highly inventive minds, humans could beat the amount of daylight an Arctic tern sees in a year.

Using air travel, humans could move from a research base in Antarctica to somewhere inside the Arctic circle, enjoying two summers in a year. I don’t know of anyone who’s taken up this challenge yet, but maybe you could try.

During their lives, many people will see more daylight than Arctic terns, simply because, on average, we live much longer.

You could maximize your own daylight exposure if you spent winter in the opposite hemisphere to your usual home, enjoying two summers each year. It sounds like a plan to me!


When British Scientists Fled from Mob Rule

Watt, Priestley and Withering

Three of the Lunar Society members who feared they would be attacked: James Watt, Joseph Priestley, and William Withering from left to right.

1789 was the year of the French Revolution.

Dr. Joseph Priestley wholeheartedly approved of the Revolution.

Priestley had discovered oxygen; invented fizzy, carbonated water; and had written what became the standard textbook on electricity for several decades.

Now he abandoned chemistry in favor of promoting the French Revolutionary slogans of liberty, equality and fraternity. He openly celebrated the abolition of the French Monarchy.

For his Revolutionary sympathies, he was criticized in the British Parliament. Meanwhile, the French Revolutionaries acknowledged their brother on the other side of the English Channel and awarded him French citizenship.


To celebrate the second anniversary of the Revolution, Priestley and other sympathizers planned a dinner in a hotel in Birmingham, England, where Priestley lived.

The French Revolution was popular at the time with a number of intellectuals in Britain. The infamous Reign of Terror, in which French Revolutionaries executed tens of thousands of people without trial still lay two years in the future.

Although popular with a minority of people, the general feeling in Britain in 1791 was hostile to the Revolution.

Priestley was warned that there might be violence at the dinner, so he did not attend it.

There was violence at the dinner, which spread to various locations, including Priestley’s home, which was attacked by a mob and burned to the ground, including his laboratory. Fortunately, Priestley had the good sense to have made himself scarce, and was not at the house to face the mob.

Priestley's House Torched by the Mob

Joseph Priestley’s house burning after being attacked by a mob.

Scientists, or as they were then called, Philosophers, became a particular target of the anti-revolutionary mob, whether the scientists supported the Revolution or not!

“No philosophers! Church and King forever!” was a favorite chant. The city of Birmingham was gripped by anarchy and fear.

With Priestley’s house destroyed, the mob looked for other scientists to attack.

James Watt, inventor, scientist, and father of the industrial revolution, and his business partner, Matthew Boulton feared they would be targeted. They fortified their engine factories and armed their workforce to defend the buildings from the mob. Their factories were not attacked, probably because most of the rioters were operating in other city neighborhoods.

Particular targets for the mob were members of Birmingham’s Lunar Society, who happily called themselves The Lunatics. The Lunar Society was made up of scientists, intellectuals and businessmen including James Watt, Matthew Boulton, Erasmus Darwin, James Keir, William Withering, and Joseph Priestley.

Joseph Priestley

The popular press portrayed Joseph Priestley unfavorably.

William Withering’s home was attacked.

Withering was a chemist and physician, who discovered the drug digitalis. Fortunately, the first port of call for the rioters who entered his house was his wine cellars.

While the mob fortified themselves with liquor, soldiers from the Fifteenth Light Dragoons arrived in the area. The mob got wind of the presence of the troops, and left the scene as quickly as their unsteady feet would carry them.

Other scientists in Birmingham, fearing for their lives, either fled from the city or lay low, hoping the rioting would be contained before the mob reached them or their houses or laboratories.

With riots continuing, King George III (Yes, he of The Madness of King George fame) finally gave into demands that troops should be sent to Birmingham to end the disorder. He is reported to have said: “I feel pleased that Priestley is the sufferer for the doctrines he and his party have instilled, and that the people see them in their true light.”

The riots had lasted four days.

Despite the sympathy of King George and other senior politicians for their actions, several rioters were hanged.

Priestley had the good sense not to return to Birmingham, but stayed in London, which was safer, although still uncomfortable. He and his family emigrated from London to the United States in 1794.