Q&A: Animal behaviour

Magnetic-field perception

The ability to perceive Earth's magnetic field, which at one time was dismissed as a physical impossibility, is now known to exist in diverse animals. The receptors for the magnetic sense remain elusive. But it seems that at least two underlying mechanisms exist — sometimes in the same organism.

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Figure 1: Animal magnetism.

E. OLSEN/FLPA; T. PUSSER/NATUREPL.COM; B. MANSELL/NATUREPL.COM; N. PROBST/PHOTOLIBRARY.COM; T. PUSSER/NATUREPL.COM

Figure 2: Earth's magnetic field.
Figure 3: Hypothetical model of magnetite-based magnetoreception.

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Lohmann, K. Magnetic-field perception. Nature 464, 1140–1142 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/4641140a

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