Magnetoreception in animals
Like the theory of plate tectonics, the idea that animals can detect Earth's magnetic field has traveled the path from ridicule to well-established fact in little more than one generation. Dozens of experiments have now shown that diverse animal species, ranging from bees to salamanders to sea turtles to birds, have internal compasses. Some species use their compasses to navigate entire oceans, others to find better mud just a few inches away. Certain migratory species even appear to use the geographic variations in the strength and inclination of Earth's field to determine their position. But how animals sense magnetic fields remains a hotly contested topic. Whereas the physical basis of nearly all other senses has been determined, and a magnetoreception mechanism has been identified in bacteria, no one knows with certainty how any animal perceives magnetic fields. Finding this mechanism is thus the current grand challenge of sensory biology. © 2008 American Institute of Physics.
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