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Curr Biol. 2010 May 25;20(10):R431-5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.03.045.


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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544-1003, USA.


Few subjects in animal behavior have more exotic mystery than magnetic-field sensitivity. A force we cannot sense, generated by events no one completely understands, creates field lines that pass through our bodies without any evident effect on us or on them. It is an energy felt as much by migrating lobsters on the sea floor as by ocean-crossing birds thousands of meters overhead, transduced in generally poorly understood ways. Despite the blindness of humans, modern life depends on this invisible, ghostlike field. Aside from lights and heaters, nearly every electrical device we own makes use of electromagnetism, and that same magnetism is essential in generating the power these new-found necessities consume. But for many animals, the reliance is far older and more basic: their life-or-death ability to find their way around in the world depends on correctly interpreting the earth's magnetic field.

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