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!


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