Natures wonders: using the magnetic field (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Thursday, June 25, 2015, 20:37 (1549 days ago) @ David Turell
edited by dhw, Friday, June 26, 2015, 08:04

Lots of different varieties of animals use the Earth's magnetic field:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mouse-senses-magnetic-fields-possibly-via-qua...

"Quantum mechanics governs the quirky, counterintuitive way the world works at the small scales of atoms and subatomic particles. It might also be important for helping animals understand their place in their surroundings. New research suggests that wood mice, commonly found in Europe, have a built-in compass that exploits quantum processes, the first seen in a wild mammal.

"According to a study in Scientific Reports published on April 29, wood mice placed in a container prefer to build their nests in the parts of the container closest to magnetic north and south. When researchers created an artificial magnetic field, the mice nested in line with the new north-south orientation. Scientists suspect that this compass sense comes from electrons dancing around in the mice's eyes.

***

"Researchers aren't completely sure how sensing magnetic fields benefits mice, but John Phillips, a biologist at Virginia Tech and one of the study's coauthors, thinks it helps the mice assemble their everyday movements into "a coherent map of the world they know," he said. "Nothing that we know about spatial processing in rodents has provided the global reference system [they] need," he said, suggesting that the poorly understood magnetic sense might be involved.

"The discovery underscores that animals' compasses aren't just used for large-scale navigation. Unlike migratory birds and sea turtles -- which seemingly use their magnetic senses to migrate thousands of miles -- the average wood mouse lives in a home range about 500 feet across."


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