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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Longitude perception and bicoordinate magnetic maps in sea turtles

Nathan F Putman, Courtney S Endres, Catherine M F Lohmann, Kenneth J Lohmann
Current Biology: CB 2011 March 22, 21 (6): 463-6
21353561
Long-distance animal migrants often navigate in ways that imply an awareness of both latitude and longitude. Although several species are known to use magnetic cues as a surrogate for latitude, it is not known how any animal perceives longitude. Magnetic parameters appear to be unpromising as longitudinal markers because they typically vary more in a north-south rather than an east-west direction. Here we report, however, that hatchling loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) from Florida, USA, when exposed to magnetic fields that exist at two locations with the same latitude but on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, responded by swimming in different directions that would, in each case, help them advance along their circular migratory route. The results demonstrate for the first time that longitude can be encoded into the magnetic positioning system of a migratory animal. Because turtles also assess north-south position magnetically, the findings imply that loggerheads have a navigational system that exploits the Earth's magnetic field as a kind of bicoordinate magnetic map from which both longitudinal and latitudinal information can be extracted.

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