Bats use magnetite to detect the earth's magnetic field

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  • Richard Holland
    Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton UniversityUniversity of Leeds
  • J.L. Kirschvink
  • T.G. Doak
  • M. Wikelski
While the role of magnetic cues for compass orientation has been confirmed in numerous animals, the mechanism of detection is still debated. Two hypotheses have been proposed, one based on a light dependent mechanism, apparently used by birds and another based on a "compass organelle" containing the iron oxide particles magnetite (Fe3O4). Bats have recently been shown to use magnetic cues for compass orientation but the method by which they detect the Earth's magnetic field remains unknown. Here we use the classic "Kalmijn-Blakemore" pulse re-magnetization experiment, whereby the polarity of cellular magnetite is reversed. The results demonstrate that the big brown bat Epteskus fuscus uses single domain magnetite to detect the Earths magnetic field and the response indicates a polarity based receptor. Polarity detection is a prerequisite for the use of magnetite as a compass and suggests that big brown bats use magnetite to detect the magnetic field as a compass. Our results indicate the possibility that sensory cells in bats contain freely rotating magnetite particles, which appears not to be the case in birds. It is crucial that the ultrastructure of the magnetite containing magnetoreceptors is described for our understanding of magnetoreception in animals.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume3
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2008
Externally publishedYes
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