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4Aug/10

Birds can see magnetic fields?!?

As if I need yet another fact laughing in my face for needing glasses since I was in the 3rd grade, a new study coming out of Goethe University suggests that robins can SEE magnetic fields.

It has been widely known for some time now that birds often possess the ability to navigate using the earth's natural magnetic field - this is what allows them to navigate in the same direction over long distances.  What hasn't been quite as clear is the manner in which they achieve this amazing feat.

Recent evidence suggests that some birds may simply be doing it the old fashioned way, using a special kind of molecule in their eyes cryptochrome. This molecule becomes activated by blue light coming in through the bird's right eye.  It becomes very sensitive to changing magnetic fields, and turns this information into a darkening/lightening of the bird's visual field depending on the strength of the magnetic field (see below).

When researchers blocked the vision of the birds' right eye, they made random choices in the direction they chose, whereas they almost always went north in control experiments.  Just one more piece of evidence that our feathery friends are more complicated than we give them credit for!

via Discover Science

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