'Magnet Molecule' May Guide Bird Migration

Inner compass guides journeys, researchers believe
By Laurel Jorgensen,  Newser Staff
Posted May 5, 2008 8:22 AM CDT
Early observers of migratory birds thought that one species somehow turned into another.   (Flickr)
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(Newser) – Migrating birds may rely on a special molecule discovered in their eyes that allows them to  perceive the Earth’s magnetic field lines as a kind of road map, new research shows. The molecule may help birds navigate much the same way humans follow lines to stay on a highway lane, said the study in the journal Nature

It's not clear how the molecule functions—whether it affects sight or simply orientation. “It could be a bright or dark spot that would move around,” said the lead researcher. Another biophysicist theorized that a bird’s inner magnetic compass might make it feel the way airline passengers do during a drastic descent if it started flying off course.