The five: magnetoreceptive animals


Last week, researchers from the California Institute of Technology announced that they believe humans have the ability to pick up on the Earth’s magnetic field – a power known as magnetoreception. In an experiment, participants’ brains were described as “freaking out” when the magnetic field was changed unexpectedly.


a happy labradoodle

It seems dogs poo predominantly in alignment with the Earth’s magnetic field. Photograph: Alamy

After observing 37 breeds of dog over a two-year period, Czech and German scientists concluded that dogs poo in alignment with the Earth’s magnetic field. They studied a total of 1,893 defecations and 5,582 urinations, recording the orientation of the dog’s spines with a compass. They didn’t offer an explanation as to why dogs relieve themselves in a north-south direction.

Fruit flies

the head of a fruit fly in close up

Not just a pretty face: the fruit fly. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

By screening the fruit fly genome, some Chinese scientists have discovered clumps of proteins that they believe work as a magnetic sensor. It is theorised that these clumps, known as cryptochromes and found in many species, may employ quantum effects to amplify the magnetic field into a signal readable by animal’s brains.


Lobster migration seems to be based on the Earth’s magnetic field.

Lobster migration seems to be based on the Earth’s magnetic field. Photograph: Ed Corey/Alamy Stock Photo

Lobsters are unique among crustaceans for their large, coordinated migrations where they often walk in single-file lines of up to 50 creatures. After a series of experiments in a circular water tank fitted with magnetic coils, scientists concluded that their orientation is in part based on the Earth’s magnetic field.

Mole rats

a close up of a mole rat showing its incisors

The mole rat: functionally blind but rarely lost. Photograph: Blickwinkel/Alamy Stock Photo

Mole rats have poor eyesight and spend most of their days building and scampering around complex networks of subterranean tunnels. They can rely on smell for short trips , but researchers from the universities of Tel Aviv and Geneva have found the creatures use the Earth’s magnetic field to guide them on longer journeys.


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