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Curr Biol. 2010 Sep 14;20(17):1534-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.06.073. Epub 2010 Aug 5.

The role of the magnetite-based receptors in the beak in pigeon homing.

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Fachbereich Biowissenschaften, J.W. Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, Siesmayerstrasse 70, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.


Magnetite-containing structures in the upper beak of birds have been described as putative magnetoreceptors [1-4], but so far, all positive evidence indicating their influence on behavior has come from laboratory studies using rather unnatural stimuli (e.g., [5-7]). Here, we demonstrate these receptors' possible role in a natural situation: we released pigeons with these receptors deactivated by a local anesthetic within and outside a magnetic anomaly, together with untreated control birds. Within the anomaly, the untreated birds showed unusually long vanishing intervals and scattered bearings, indicating confusion by the anomalous magnetic conditions. Anesthesia of the beak suppressed this adverse effect. Outside the anomaly, in contrast, the treatment had little effect. These findings indicate that the receptors in the beak mediate magnetic "map" information and that this information is normally included in the navigational process yet can be replaced by nonmagnetic factors at most sites.

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