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Animal Navigation: Magnetic Sense

The remarkable ability to navigate over long distances, associated with either migratory or homing behaviour is common to many animals. Examples are seen in a wide range of taxa including insects, birds, fish, crustacea and mammals. These innate behaviours make use of a range of sensory receptors allowing animals to respond to environmental stimuli and navigate across unfamiliar territories.

Understanding the mechanisms by which animals navigate across unknown territories has been the focus of interest and challenge for scientists for many years.

In both homing and migration the animal must navigate from starting points beyond the reach of sensory information relating to their goal location. This means that the animals must be able to sense location, to determine their starting point, and direction, to determine the path they will take in order to reach their goal location.

This ability is clearly demonstrated in the domesticated Homing Pigeon, Columba livia. In addition to being able to return to their nest site after feeding, homing pigeons are also able to return to their nest from distant and unfamiliar sites.

Homing pigeons transported to unfamiliar starting sites, (meaning they have not navigated the outward journey), when released still find their way back to their nest site, even if transported to the release site under general anaesthesia. This means that as well as having some form of compass to determine direction, the homing pigeon must also be able to determine where it is starting from, demonstrating that the homing pigeon has a sense of location.

Animal navigation seminar paper
Seminar paper for "Animal navigation: magnetic sense" (2.0 MB, PDF)
Animal navigation pre-seminar paper
Pre-seminar paper for "Animal navigation: magnetic sense" (696.2 kB, PDF)
Animal navigation challenge questions
Challenge questions for "Animal navigation: magnetic sense" (150.3 kB, PDF)
Professor Michael Walker
About Professor Michael Walker (69.2 kB, PDF)