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A Wilder View: Explaining magnetic alignment in animals

Posted at 1:40 PM, Nov 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-18 15:59:43-05

MISSOULA — Scientists have proven that some animals have developed the incredible ability to use the magnetic field of the Earth to navigate, find food, and more.

If you look out into a field you may notice the most cows or deer are facing the same general direction when they feed. Well, there’s a reason for this. In the same way that birds have an instinct telling them to fly south for the winter, cows and deer tend to face north when they eat or rest.

Scientists were able to determine this over time by using satellite images, field observations, and measuring deer beds in snow. The reason for this is that these animals have a sort of compass in their brain. The behavior is called magnetic alignment.

Research published in the National Academy of Sciences showed that factors like wind and the angle of the sun had little significance on how the animals stood. Like the needle of a compass, their heads rotated to the north.

Researchers believe that although the animals aren’t aware of what North means, to you and me, there is some part of their brain telling them that is the direction they should be facing.

Although there are still questions to be answered these findings will allow us to continue to better understand these animals.