Birds get their internal compass from this newly ID’d eye protein | Science News

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Birds get their internal compass from this newly ID’d eye protein

‘Sixth sense’ lets zebra finches and European robins navigate using Earth’s magnetic field

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7:00am, April 3, 2018
European robin

SIXTH SENSE  During European robins’ long-range migrations, production of the protein Cry4 increases and that may facilitate the birds’ sense of Earth’s magnetic field.

Birds can sense Earth’s magnetic field, and this uncanny ability may help them fly home from unfamiliar places or navigate migrations that span tens of thousands of kilometers.

For decades, researchers thought iron-rich cells in birds’ beaks acted as microscopic compasses (SN: 5/19/12, p. 8). But in recent years, scientists have found increasing evidence that certain proteins in birds’ eyes might be what allows them to see magnetic fields (SN: 10/28/09, p. 12).

Scientists have now pinpointed a possible protein behind this “sixth sense.” Two new studies — one examining zebra finches published March 28 in Journal of the Royal Society Interface,

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