Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Pigeons' homing skill not due to iron-rich beak: Cells cannot sense magnetic fields

Date:
April 11, 2012
Source:
University College London
Summary:
The theory that pigeons' famous skill at navigation is down to iron-rich nerve cells in their beaks has been disproven by a new study.

State-of-the-art imaging techniques were used to visualize and map the location of iron-filled cells in the pigeon beak, according to Dr Mark Lythgoe.
Credit: Image courtesy of University College London

The theory that pigeons' famous skill at navigation is down to iron-rich nerve cells in their beaks has been disproven by a new study published in Nature.

Related Articles


The study shows that iron-rich cells in the pigeon beak are in fact specialized white blood cells, called macrophages. This finding, which shatters the established dogma, puts the field back on course as the search for magnetic cells continues.

"The mystery of how animals detect magnetic fields has just got more mysterious," said Dr David Keays who led the study.

Dr Keays continued: "We had hoped to find magnetic nerve cells, but unexpectedly we found thousands of macrophages, each filled with tiny balls of iron."

Macrophages are a type of white blood cell that play a vital role in defending against infection and re-cycling iron from red blood cells. They're unlikely to be involved in magnetic sensing as they are not excitable cells and cannot produce electrical signals which could be registered by neurons and therefore influence the pigeon's behavior.

Dr Keays's lab, based at the Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna, worked together with Dr Shaw from the University of Western Australia, and Drs Lythgoe and Riegler from the UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging in London.

"We employed state-of-the-art imaging techniques to visualize and map the location of iron-filled cells in the pigeon beak," said Dr Mark Lythgoe.

The search for the actual mechanism that allows migratory birds, and many other animals, to respond to Earth's magnetic field and navigate around their environment remains an intriguing puzzle to be solved.

"We have no idea how big the puzzle is or what the picture looks like, but today we've been able to remove those pieces that just didn't fit," said Dr Keays.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University College London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Christoph Daniel Treiber, Marion Claudia Salzer, Johannes Riegler, Nathaniel Edelman, Cristina Sugar, Martin Breuss, Paul Pichler, Herve Cadiou, Martin Saunders, Mark Lythgoe, Jeremy Shaw, David Anthony Keays. Clusters of iron-rich cells in the upper beak of pigeons are macrophages not magnetosensitive neurons. Nature, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nature11046

Cite This Page:

University College London. "Pigeons' homing skill not due to iron-rich beak: Cells cannot sense magnetic fields." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 April 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120411132059.htm>.
University College London. (2012, April 11). Pigeons' homing skill not due to iron-rich beak: Cells cannot sense magnetic fields. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 25, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120411132059.htm
University College London. "Pigeons' homing skill not due to iron-rich beak: Cells cannot sense magnetic fields." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120411132059.htm (accessed January 25, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Florida Might Legalize Black Bear Hunting

Florida Might Legalize Black Bear Hunting

Newsy (Jan. 24, 2015) A string of black bear attacks has Florida officials considering lifting the ban on hunting the animals to control their population. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Killing Large Portion Of Ape Population

Ebola Killing Large Portion Of Ape Population

Newsy (Jan. 23, 2015) Experts estimate Ebola has wiped out one-third of the world&apos;s gorillas and chimpanzees. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Controversy Shrouds Captive Killer Whale in Miami

Controversy Shrouds Captive Killer Whale in Miami

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Jan. 23, 2015) Activists hope the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) will label killer whales endangered, allowing lawyers to sue a Miami aquarium to release an orca into the wild after 44 years. Jillian Kitchener reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
‘Healthy’ Foods That Surprisingly Pack on Pounds

‘Healthy’ Foods That Surprisingly Pack on Pounds

Buzz60 (Jan. 23, 2015) Some &apos;healthy&apos; foods are actually fattening. Fitness and nutrition expert John Basedow (@JohnBasedow) shines a light on the sneaky foods like nuts, seeds, granola, trail mix, avocados, guacamole, olive oil, peanut butter, fruit juices and salads that are good for you...but not so much for your waistline. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins