Company’s Coming… Your Holiday Get-together May Be Big, But It’s Not as Large as These Animal Gatherings

Thanksgiving is a time when people travel from across the country (and sometimes around the world) to gather together with friends and family. Those big celebrations often bring a crowd to the dinner table and a house full of visiting relatives. Animals have their own versions of those gargantuan gatherings—and if you think 14 people is a crowd at the Thanksgiving table, imagine hosting a gathering of up to 4 billion!

High Attendance at This School Reunion

During spawning season, Atlantic herring sometimes congregate in ocean shoals in extremely large numbers—starting out in deep water to avoid attack by predators, then heading toward shallower water en masse to spawn. The largest school of herring observed in one of these gatherings contained an estimated 4 billion fish in a 3-mile-long mass.

A Swarm of Unexpected Visitors

If that’s not a big enough crowd, picture one of the largest animal gatherings in history, when an estimated 12 trillion Rocky Mountain locusts suddenly showed up one day in 1875. The hopping, flying, swarming insects reportedly blanketed a 110-mile-wide swath of the western United States extending 1,800 miles in length—briefly covering a total area of approximately 198,000 square miles. However, that may have been their last hurrah: the species is thought to have gone extinct sometime after 1902.

One of 10 million, a straw-colored fruit bat enjoys a bit of mango. (Photo: Dave M Hunt Photography/Getty Images)

Is It That Time of Year Again?

Like humans’ holiday gatherings, some animal gatherings occur at the same time every year. Every October, more than 10 million straw-colored fruit bats arrive in Zambia’s Kasanka National Park from the Democratic Republic of the Congo—some traveling more than 1,200 miles miles—to feast on ripe mangos. They stay for about six weeks, then the party’s over, and they head home.

A Red, Crawling Beach Blanket

In another once-a-year gathering, between 40 million and 120 million red crabs scurry more than 3 miles across Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, to reach their favorite beach for breeding. The resulting mass of side-by-side moving crabs covers huge areas of land, forcing road closures during the crustaceans’ annual migration.

European starlings have spirited discussions at their gatherings, too. (Photo: Bazilfoto/Getty Images)

Winging Their Way to Dinner

While humans generally board jets to take a Thanksgiving trip across the country, some long-distance travelers fly under their own power. Birds travel together in flocks—and one of the largest ever counted in the US was a 1.5 billion-bird flock of European starlings. Wherever they were headed, it’s probably safe to assume there were no leftovers after they got there and finished eating.

Billions of Ant Aunties

Wherever you find food, especially outdoors, you’ll often find ants, and Argentine ants are one of the most numerous species found worldwide. The largest known gathering of Argentine ants was in one super colony stretching for 3,700 miles—from Northern Italy through the South of France, to the Atlantic coast of Spain—with 33 separate populations, millions of anthills, and billions of worker ants.

No matter how many holiday guests are expected to gather at your house, here’s wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving—with more than enough fun, feasting, and “all the trimmings” to satisfy every member of your gathering. And if you want to share your holiday weekend with members of the Animal Kingdom, both the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are open every day—including Thanksgiving Day.

Eston Ellis is a writer and copy editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous blog, Five Macabre Tales from the Animal Kingdom

(Header image by Philip Smith 1000/Getty Images)