It turns out that birds really do have a sixth sense, scientists have finally discovered how birds navigate the Earth's magnetic field and its thanks to a substance in the bird's eyes that allow them to see magnetic fields. Scientists have dubbed the ability "magnetoreception", but exactly how they are able to see the magnetic field has been a source of much speculation.
It isn't anything new that birds navigate in their daily lives and on long migrations using the Earth's magnetic field, but now scientists have pinpointed a substance in birds' eyes that gives them the power to perceive magnetic fields. The substance is a protein called Cry4. Scientists conducted two studies in robins and zebra finches that sheds some light on Cry4s role in allowing them to see magnetic fields.
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Cry4 is part of a group of proteins called cryotpchromes which are found in the eyes. These special proteins are involved in regulating circadian rhythms, but they also have a role in magnetoreception. "Cry4 is an ideal magnetoreceptor as the level of the protein in the eyes is constant," Atticus Pinzón-Rodríguez said, a doctoral student and lead author of the study.
"This is something we expect from a receptor that is used regardless of the time of day," Pinzón-Rodríguez said. He also went on to say their results "indicate that other animals, perhaps all of them, have magnetic receptors and can pick up on magnetic fields." The studies results were also supported by another group at the Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg in Germany. The study in Germany arrived at similar results after examining the presence of Cry4 in robins.
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They also found when the migratory season came around, they observed increased levels of Cry4 in the robins which presumably would help them prepare for migration. The results of the studies were <a href="http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(17)31605-6">published in the journal Current Biology.</a>
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