Who knew that taking a tinkle could be so scientific? A new study conducted by German and Czech researchers has revealed that dogs tend to align themselves with the Earth's magnetic field during excretion. The findings represent the first real evidence of magnetic awareness in our beloved canine creatures.
Interestingly, dogs are just the latest addition to a long list of animals that use the Earth's magnetic field for everything -- from merely orienting themselves, to navigating migratory routes across large distances. Let's explore the study itself and then understand how animals accomplish this seemingly impossible task.
Dogs and the Magnetic Field
The two-year study involved 37 dog owners, 70 dogs, and almost 7,500 instances of the dogs relieving themselves. Owners were asked to measure the alignment of the dogs' thoracic spines as they fed, rested, urinated, and defecated. The results were striking - dogs going to the bathroom tended to align themselves on a north-south axis in the presence of a magnetic field, and lost their orientation in its absence. The real twist in the tale - they consistently avoided urinating or defecating on an east-west axis.
Do the dogs consciously sense the presence of the magnetic field and align themselves accordingly? Or do they just feel more comfortable in certain directions? It's still a puzzle, and the study raises more questions than answers.
Animal's Magnetic Compass
As we said before, dogs are just one of many species in the animal kingdom who seem to have a built-in magnetic compass. The technical term for this 'magnetic sense' is magnetoception, and can be seen among birds, flies, bats, and mollusks.
It's still a mystery as to how these animals sense and use the Earth's magnetic field, but certain theories have been floating in the air recently. Some in the field of neurobiology think that there are magnetoreceptors embedded in the tissue of these organisms. Interestingly, birds have been shown to have magnetite, a magnetic mineral, embedded in their beaks and throughout the bloodstream. The other hypothesis involves molecules inside the eye that allow birds and other animals to literally 'see' the magnetic field.
Most animals use the magnetic field for some form of orientation. Birds, especially homing pigeons, have a magnetic compass that allows them to navigate. Other animals, like mole rats, use the magnetic field as an aid to orient their nests. Whatever it is, be it migration, nest-building, or even urination, magnetoception is a key feature of many animals that allows them to accomplish remarkable tasks without much trouble.
How amazing is the Animal Kingdom!