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Navigation Roundup

May 4, 2007

Many animals find their way home the same way a Boy Scout would: with a compass.


Pigeons with a compass in their beak. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

It’s long been known that homing pigeons use the earth’s magnetic field to help them find their way. Now scientists in Germany have discovered how they do it. The birds have specialized sensory nerves lining their upper beak. The branches of these nerve cells contain tiny magnetic crystals. Furthermore, the scientists discoverd that the branches are arranged in such a way that the birds can sense differences in the Earth’s magnetic field in all three dimensions.

In other animal navigation news, French researchers have found that sea turtles navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field. But unlike a person who points a boat upstream to compensate for a strong current, the turtles just keep aiming for their home beach, no matter where the current pushes them.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.