Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cows beat Dubai

Cow Compass visible from space:
Despite thousands of years of coexistence, exploitation and cheese, humanity seems to have missed an intriguing fact about cows: they like to point north. Or possibly south.

An analysis of more than 8,000 cows claims they have a statistically significant preference to align themselves in a north-south direction. The team behind this study has also found a similar preference in deer, and believes the animals must be sensing the Earth's magnetic field.

While 'magnetoreception' has been documented in insects, birds and some mammals, the idea that such a prominent example of it could have gone unrecognised for years comes as a surprise. What evolutionary advantage, if any, the cattle might accrue is unclear.
Has it really been unnoticed? If you've ever paid much attention when passing a field of cows you'll have noticed a majority are facing one way. I'd always conjectured the reason had to do with the direction of the wind. Evidently, not.

The researcher originally wanted to use Google Earth to look at human campsites, but couldn't see them well. What he could see were cows. Lots of cows.

Cows in close proximity to powerlines are unable to find north.

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