You may already know that dogs align their bodies with the Earth’s north-south axis when they do their business. But seriously, why?
It is already suspected that dogs and several other species have the ability to sense the Earth’s magnetic fields. We touched on this ourselves when we covered how lost dogs are able to find their way home. But new evidence has recently come to light that gives this widely held belief even greater weight.
In an even more recent and astounding study, researchers may have now linked this magnetoreception to the visual systems of dogs and other mammalian species—meaning that dogs might actually possess the ability to see these fields, not just poop along them.
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, alongside the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, the Goethe University Frankfurt, and the Universities of Duisburg-Essen and Göttingen, have discovered a light-sensitive molecule called cryptochrome 1 in the eyes of dogs and other mammals.
In their examination of 90 species of mammal, the team found that cryptochrome 1 was present in the blue-sensitive cones of the eyes of dog-like carnivores such as dogs, wolves, bears, foxes, badgers, and even some primates.
The team suspects that the presence and location of this molecule within the mammals’ retinas may enable them to recognize magnetic fields just like migratory birds can. Because the molecule bears such a similarity to cryptochrome 1a in birds, it seems entirely plausible that it functions in the same way.
We are eager to find out more about cryptochrome 1 and if dogs are actively using it for orientation and navigation, or if it serves some other purpose in the retina.