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Study Shows How Birds Navigate Across Oceans Without GPS

Uncategorized By Mar 12, 2023

Birds are capable of navigating vast oceans without GPS, and new research sheds light on how they manage to cross the Atlantic Ocean twice a year, covering over 70,000 km. The Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany discovered that Arctic terns, a type of small bird, were capable of sensing the Earth’s magnetic field through their eyes. This ability is linked to a protein called Cryptochrome 1, found in the birds’ eyes, which appears to be sensitive to the orientation of the Earth’s magnetic field, allowing birds to use it as a navigational aid.

Study Shows How Birds Navigate Across Oceans Without GPS

Incredible as it may seem, birds are capable of navigating vast oceans without the aid of GPS. New research has shed light on the how they manage this feat, and it is truly remarkable. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany have uncovered the secrets of how Arctic terns, small birds with a wingspan of around 50 cm, manage to cross the Atlantic Ocean twice a year, covering a distance of over 70,000 km.

Navigating Without GPS

GPS devices have become ubiquitous in recent years, but birds have been navigating the planet without them for millions of years. Scientists have long known that birds use a combination of visual cues, such as the position of the sun and the stars, and their sense of smell to guide them as they migrate to their wintering destinations. However, until now, exactly how they managed to navigate over such long distances has remained a mystery.

The Max Planck Institute’s research, which was published in the scientific journal “Nature Ecology and Evolution”, has revealed that Arctic terns are capable of sensing the Earth’s magnetic field through their eyes. This ability is linked to a protein called Cryptochrome 1, which is found in the birds’ eyes.

The Role of Cryptochrome 1

The research team discovered that when Arctic terns were exposed to a magnetic field that mimicked that of the Earth’s, the Cryptochrome 1 protein changed its chemical structure. The scientists were able to track this change using a technique called X-ray crystallography, which allowed them to observe the protein in atomic detail. The protein appears to be sensitive to the orientation of the Earth’s magnetic field, allowing birds to use it as a navigational aid.

The study has broad implications for our understanding of how animals navigate the environment. Researchers hope that by understanding the navigational mechanisms of birds, they can develop new approaches to navigation technology that might be useful in fields such as aviation and robotics.

FAQs

What is the Arctic tern?

The Arctic tern is a bird with a wingspan of around 50 cm that is capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean twice a year, covering a distance of over 70,000 km.

How do birds navigate?

Birds use a combination of visual cues, such as the position of the sun and the stars, and their sense of smell to guide them as they migrate to their destinations. Recent research has discovered that some birds, like the Arctic tern, are capable of sensing the Earth’s magnetic field through their eyes.

What is Cryptochrome 1?

Cryptochrome 1 is a protein found in the eyes of some birds that appears to be sensitive to the orientation of the Earth’s magnetic field. This allows birds to use it as a navigational aid when they are crossing vast distances.

What are the implications of this research?

Research into the navigational mechanisms of birds could lead to new approaches to navigation technology. The ability to navigate long distances without relying on GPS could be useful in fields such as aviation and robotics.

What techniques were used to study the Cryptochrome 1 protein?

The researchers used a technique called X-ray crystallography to observe the Cryptochrome 1 protein in atomic detail. This allowed them to track changes in the protein’s chemical structure in response to exposure to a magnetic field.

Are there other animals that can sense the Earth’s magnetic field?

Yes, some other animals, including certain species of fish and turtles, are known to be able to sense the Earth’s magnetic field. However, the mechanisms by which they do so are different from those used by birds.

In conclusion, the fact that birds are capable of navigating vast distances without GPS is truly incredible, and new research has revealed the extent to which they rely on their sense of vision to do so. The discovery of the role of Cryptochrome 1 in navigating by Arctic terns has broad implications for our understanding of how animals navigate and how we might be able to apply this knowledge to develop new navigation technologies in the future.

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