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J R Soc Interface. 2010 Apr 6;7 Suppl 2:S207-25. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2009.0526.focus. Epub 2010 Jan 27.

Magnetoreception in eusocial insects: an update.

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  • 1Coordenação de Física Aplicada, Centro Brasileiro de Pesquisas Físicas, R. Xavier Sigaud, 150, Rio de Janeiro 22290-180, Brazil. elianew@cbpf.br


Behavioural experiments for magnetoreception in eusocial insects in the last decade are reviewed. Ants and bees use the geomagnetic field to orient and navigate in areas around their nests and along migratory paths. Bees show sensitivity to small changes in magnetic fields in conditioning experiments and when exiting the hive. For the first time, the magnetic properties of the nanoparticles found in eusocial insects, obtained by magnetic techniques and electron microscopy, are reviewed. Different magnetic oxide nanoparticles, ranging from superparamagnetic to multi-domain particles, were observed in all body parts, but greater relative concentrations in the abdomens and antennae of honeybees and ants have focused attention on these segments. Theoretical models for how these specific magnetosensory apparatuses function have been proposed. Neuron-rich ant antennae may be the most amenable to discovering a magnetosensor that will greatly assist research into higher order processing of magnetic information. The ferromagnetic hypothesis is believed to apply to eusocial insects, but interest in a light-sensitive mechanism is growing. The diversity of compass mechanisms in animals suggests that multiple compasses may function in insect orientation and navigation. The search for magnetic compasses will continue even after a magnetosensor is discovered in eusocial insects.

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