Study: Herd animals detect Earth's magnetic field

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Large herd animals may have the ability to detect earth's magnetic field, concluded scientists in Germany in a report published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences after performing studies of cattle and deer grazing and sleeping patterns. The animals tended to face north-south oriented toward the earth's magnetic poles. Hynek Burda of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany led the team that announced the unconfirmed study. Burda and his team gathered cattle data via analysis of Google Earth images.

The team originally intended to test for possible human magnetic field detection by studying the orientation of sleeping bags in outdoor campers, but it proved difficult to obtain data because humans usually slept under tents. Cattle were easier to observe, and 8,510 head of cattle at 308 locations demonstrated a strong tendency to align body orientation in accordance with the earth's magnetic field. Other possible factors such as wind or sunlight direction did not supply a better explanation for the behavior.

Cquote1.svg I think the really amazing thing is that hunters and herdsmen and farmers didn't notice it. Cquote2.svg

—Hynek Burda, University of Duisburg-Essen

To compare against a second large species, Burda and his team analyzed data on 2,974 deer studied through photography, direct observation, and snow imprints. The deer demonstrated a similar pattern. "I think the really amazing thing is that hunters and herdsmen and farmers didn't notice it," said Burda according to a National Public Radio report.

Other scientists found the results of the study intriguing. Peter August of the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, commented: "I was really amazed at the consistency with which they found north-facing cows and deer. It was really intriguing." No independent study has yet confirmed the Duisburg-Essen team's findings.

This is the first study that indicates magnetic field detection in large mammals. Burda's previous research involves naked mole rats, a small blind mammal species whose behavior indicates an internal magnetic compass. According to a report by Jeremy Hsu at MSNBC, "Previous research has shown that animals such as birds, turtles and salmon migrate using a sense of magnetic direction, and small mammals such as rodents and one bat species also have a magnetic compass."


Sources

Wikipedia Learn more about University of Duisburg-Essen and Earth's magnetic field on Wikipedia.
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