A team of researchers from the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, the Goethe University Frankfurt, and the Universities of Duisburg-Essen and Göttingen, Christine Nießner and Leo Peichl from the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt has revealed that dogs and some primates are capable of detecting the Earth’s magnetic field through the magnetoreception molecule in their eyes.
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Researchers already know that birds and fish possess capabilities for detecting the Earth’s magnetic fields because this is what helps them to navigate home when they roam far away or during their annual migrations, but scientists are now getting to know that dogs and some mammalian primates also possess the ability to sense the magnetic fields of the Earth.
Plants, animals, and bacteria possess light-sensitive molecules known as cryptochromes – which help animals regulate their circadian rhythms or sleep patterns. Birds possess the cryptochrome 1a which helps them maintain proper magnetic orientation in response to the Earth’s magnetic field in the presence of light. But dogs and many mammalians are found to possess the cryptochrome 1 within the photoreceptors in their eyes.
While the mammalian cryptochrome 1 is the equivalent of the bird cryptochrome 1a, humans do not appear to have the capability to detect the Earth’s magnetic fields.
Carnivores such as dogs, wolves, bears, foxes and badgers are found to possess the molecule, but it is surprisingly not found in cats, lions and tigers. It is found in the orangutan, but never in the other 16 mammalian orders. The molecule is found in the blue-sensitive cones of birds and animals when antibodies work activate the molecules in the presence of light.
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Scientists theorize that other animals might actually sense the Earth’s magnetic field but perhaps in a different way that has not been tested or known, maybe with the help of magnetite, microscopic ferrous particles in cells. A magnetite-based magnetic sense functions like a pocket compass but does not require any light, and this is what mole rats use to live in very dark tunnel systems.