Bogong Moths Are First Insects Known To Use Earth’s Magnetic Field For Flying At Night

Posted: Jun 22 2018, 9:04am CDT | by , Updated: Jun 22 2018, 9:07am CDT, in Latest Science News


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Bogong Moths are First Insects Known to Use Earth’s Magnetic Field for Flying at Night
Credit: Eric Warrant

Moths have a natural ability to sense the Earth's magnetic field and to adjust their paths accordingly

Each year, millions of bogong moths from southeastern Australia travel over 1,000 kilometers through the dark to reach caves in the Snowy Mountains. Insects that fly over long distances obviously have some kind of navigation system that allows them to end up in exactly the same place year after year. Now, a team of researchers has found that bogong moths use Earth’s magnetic field to make their journeys through the darkness of night. This is the first clear evidence that moths, like migratory birds, sense earth's magnetic field and relies on it to steer flight during migration.

"When we began this study, we were convinced that the Bogong moth would exclusively use celestial cues in the sky, such as the stars and the moon, for navigation during migration," said Eric Warrant from the University of Lund, Sweden. "This, it turned out, was not the case. We were very surprised when we discovered that these moths could sense the earth's magnetic field just like night-migratory birds – and probably for the same reason."

Bogong moths along with monarch butterflies are the only known insects to migrate over long distances, to places that they may never have visited before. Such accurate navigation system has made scientists wonder how these insects manage to find their intended destinations. And given the fact that they have tiny brain and nervous system, this makes the situation even more complicated.

To find out, researchers created an outdoor flight simulator and tracked migrating moths’ direction of travel. Moths responded as expected when visual landmarks and Earth’s magnetic field were aligned in the same direction. When those two cues started working in conflicting ways, the moths became confused and apparently lost their sense of direction. The findings led the researchers to believe that Bogong moths use a magnetic compass for navigation.

"This is essentially the same strategy we use when hiking in wilderness terrain: we determine our direction with a compass and then look for some distant landmark in roughly the same direction – for instance a mountaintop or a distant tree – and then head for this as we walk," said researcher David Dreyer. "When this landmark is no longer reliable, we again check our direction with the compass and choose a new landmark to orient towards."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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