New research out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows that the immensely complicated, accurate, and dangerous migration of hatchling loggerhead sea turtles in the open ocean is acheived using an amazing sixth sense: the ability to sense the earth’s magnetic fields.
The turtles measure both angle and intensity of the planet’s natural magnetic field created billions of years ago. The Loggerhead’s abililties are especially interesting, as the turtles are turning a relatively small amount of data into a superlative ability to locate a single breeding site. As one of the reserachers, Nathan Putman, says, “although it is true that an animal capable of detecting only inclination or only intensity would have a hard time determining longitude, loggerhead sea turtles detect both magnetic parameters…This means that they can extract more information from the Earth’s field than is initially apparent.”
Little is known regarding the neuroscience behind this amazing sensory feat, but it’s sure to be interesting.
And I wonder what the sensation of sensing the earth’s magnetic fields would be like…itchy? warm? tasty? completely subconscious? Hmmmm…..
Lab site: http://www.unc.edu/depts/geomag/