2 January 2014

Animal magnetism

Sorry for the misleading title but I couldn't resist. A recent study in Frontiers in Zoology has shown that dogs align themselves with the Earth's magnetic field when pooping. Since this behavior doesn't strike me as terribly adaptive, I wonder if there actually is more happening--maybe dogs are actually able to use the magnetic field when navigating. Since a sensitivity to the magnetic field has now been found in a number of species, I also wonder if humans have an inherent sensitivity to this that can perhaps be used to tell directions. (This would come in very handy when out hiking in the snow.)


Jazzbumpa said...

You ask a good question.

But maybe behaviors needn't be strictly adaptive. Maybe it's genetically associated with an actual adaptive trait, or just a weird accident.

Just muddying the water I guess.

Happy New Year!

BadTux said...

On the other hand, would being able to navigate by magnetic fields have been adaptive for early humans? After all, early humans were not seasonally migratory from what little we know about them. When they migrated, it was generally the entire group migrating to find better hunting grounds, or a singleton migrating to find mates in some other village because his own had no suitable mates due to inbreeding concerns. In both cases it was likely that they would have no reason to use magnetism to navigate to or from a specific place the way that migratory birds do.

I've met humans who are good at finding their way around in the outback but in general they are using the sun and stars and if possible their general knowledge of the terrain, not anything that could be magnetism. Put them under a dark and cloudy sky where no sun or stars are visible and they are as lost as anybody.

Tom Harper said...

I'd guess early mankind had a stronger sense of the Earth's magnetic field. It's probably one of many "senses" that faded away from lack of necessity after we became "civilized."