An inbuilt GPS

By | Science & Technology
Pigeon.Credit@wikimedia

An inbuilt GPS possessed by animals and birds; allows them to navigate long distances by sensing the Earth’s magnetic field. Recently investigations of the effects at the quantum level have verified how this mechanism actually works.

The ability of birds and animals to navigate long distances astounded Charles Darwin when it was noticed how many animals have this remarkable ability. For years, the exact reason certain animals have this uncanny ability eluded even Darwin. Experience showed how birds and animals may leave an unknown location but find their way home from locations thousands of kilometres away, witnessed for instance in the France to England pigeon races. Explanations of this ability included the tracking of the sun, as homing pigeons seemed to have impaired navigation when encountering overcast conditions. Further observations of their biology gave clues into why this is; homing pigeons use the position of the sun in combination with their own internal clock to track the movement of the sun. If this mechanism is interfered with by artificial lights which mimic the sun, the pigeons are far more inaccurate in orienting towards their destination.

It was claimed birds may be able to detect the magnetic field of the Earth especially when the movement of the sun is unobservable. Initially appearing to be a unique idea, later experiments which attached magnets to pigeons disrupted the ability of the animal to correctly navigate. The bird often compensates for this disruption by using the olfactory (smell) senses, visual landscape information and like bats; ultrasound detection. It appears birds have an innovative array of “technological tools”.

The ability of mammals to achieve feats like navigating thousands of miles is partially down to a magnetic sense shared by many organisms called magneto reception. This is explained by different elements in different organisms, ranging from magnetic detecting neurons, metallic deposits in areas of the anatomy, hearing mechanisms and magnetic sensitive bacteria. These elements typically align themselves to the direction of the Earth’s magnetic field lines acting as a magnetic dipole.

Many organisms including turtles, amphibians, dogs, fish and butterflies all possess a magnetic sense. Some animals may even have the capability to detect the magnetic field intensity and inclination. This magnetic sense has been proven during magnetic anomalies when birds are shown to be disoriented when flying from a starting point often flying in an imprecise direction. This may be because birds usually fly from their source directly to their destination seemingly using a magnetic compass. Dogs are also believed to be capable of sensing the rate of change of a magnetic field implying a measurement ability and memory consolidation of the information. This may explain why a dog always finds its way home. When an understanding of the Earth’s invisible magnetic field began in the 16th century, the natural ability of animals to detect this energy may have seemed improbable. The developing field of quantum biology demonstrated how this really works and may have been made possible by the previous insights of physics. This field explained magnetism as a phenomenon generated by the motion of electrons within all atoms including the metallic liquid core of planets. Organisms may utilise Earth’s magnetic information because the magnetic field is stronger closer to the poles giving an approximation of distance north or south; in addition to the longitude of magnetic field lines.

Humans may actually possess some of these abilities as the cryptochrome protein within the human eye exhibits a light dependent magnetic sensitivity. It is suggested these light sensitive magnetic proteins are used for directional and spatial perception in most mammals and are sensitive to blue light. These proteins are known to have this function and are similar to the proteins other birds and animals possess. Verifying this cryptochrome deficient flies have their magnetic sense restored when human cryptochrome is given to them. As a consequence, a re-evaluation of the human ability for magnetic sensitivity may be necessary and it may uncover a sense humans may be unaware of and may even possess.

What other natural phenomenon and senses are still to be discovered?

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