Are you aware that some animals are capable of magnetoreception? It is an added sense that enables these animals for detecting magnetic fields. The European scientists have recently discovered that the molecule responsible for this sense is also located in the eyes of dogs and some primates and went on to conclude that these animals might also be capable of seeing magnetic fields.
Cryptochromes are an ordinary group of light-sensitive molecules that are found in bacteria, animals and plants. Apart from regulating the circadian rhythms, these special proteins also allow certain animals such as insects, birds, reptiles and fish to be able to sense magnetic fields. This helps them with perception of direction, location and altitude. Humans, on the other end, are incapable of magnetoreception. A number of mammals such as mole rats, mice and bats exhibit this sense, however the extent of this peculiar ability in other mammals, for most part, is unknown.
In a first of its kind study, research team from the Max Planck Institute and multiple other institutions has carried an investigation pertaining to the presence of the mammal-version of this molecule, cryptochrome 1, in the retinas of 90 animal species. Researchers were able to determine its presence in the blue-sensitive cones of dog-like carnivores such as wolves, dogs, foxes, bears and badgers. However, the research wasn’t able to confirm its presence in the eyes of carnivores that belong to cat family. Moving on to primates, researchers concluded that cryptochrome 1 exists in orangutans, the crab-eating macaque, the rhesus macaque and others. The details have been published in ‘Nature Scientific Reports.’
Magnetoreception is considered to be the 6th sense, however, it is connected to an animal’s visual system. Magnetic fields are responsible for the activation of cryptochrome 1 in retina and once they do that, the animal ‘sees’ them as inclination of magnetic field lines in relativity to Earth’s surface. Since the active cryptochrome 1 is situated in the light-sensitive outer segments of the cone cells of mammals, the researchers believe that it is helping out with magnetoreception.
As to how they make use of it, the foxes can provide us with some clues. During hunting, the foxes are most successful at catching mice when they pounce on the prey in a northeast direction. Primates could be using this built-in compass for their body orientation or it might be existing as an evolutionary trait that is unused as of now.
The next step is to ascertain if these mammals actually make use of this cryptochrome 1 or if the molecule is merely performing other tasks in the retina.