Forget Google Maps, Animals Have Incredible Natural Compasses

By Aatif Sulleyman on at

Animals are far more intelligent than we often give them credit for. Orcas are chillingly intelligent hunters, crows can use tools, solve problems and even study human behaviour, while chimpanzees are undoubtedly brainier than many people I've met. We’re slowly realising just how much they’re capable of, and scientists have just made a breakthrough regarding animals’ natural navigational systems.

A team from Peking University has discovered that a special protein called MagR reacts with cryptochrome, another protein, and the two combine to form a compass of sorts. When this is exposed to a magnetic field, the two separate as they’re attracted to the magnets.

It's believed that this internal compass points north even when animals turn, due to the earth's natural magnetic field. They can therefore rely on this to figure out where to move when the seasons change, and how to return home again. The same system may feature in the human body too, but more investigation is required. [Nature]

Image credit: Derbyshire Harrier via Flickr

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