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Grazing Cattle Align to Earth's Magnetic Field

18 March 2009

US - A new study from Princeton has demonstrated by analysis of satellite images, field observations, and measuring “deer beds” in snow that domestic cattle and deer across the globe align their body axes in roughly a north–south direction.

Amazingly, this ubiquitous phenomenon does not seem to have been noticed by herdsmen, ranchers, or hunters. The study, published by PNAS journal, says that because wind and light conditions could be excluded as a common denominator determining the body axis orientation, magnetic alignment is the most parsimonious explanation.

To test the hypothesis that cattle orient their body axes along the field lines of the Earth's magnetic field, researchers analysed the body orientation of cattle from localities with high magnetic declination.

Here, magnetic north was a better predictor than geographic north. This study reveals the magnetic alignment in large mammals based on statistically sufficient sample sizes. The researchers say that their findings open horizons for the study of magnetoreception in general and are of potential significance for applied ethology.

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