Can cows be considered navigators?

Can cows be considered navigators?

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Oct 01, 2008
By dvm360.com staff

Next time you're driving past a farm or a rolling pasture, confident in your route, take a look at the grazing cows. They probably have a better sense of direction than you.

New evidence suggests cows sense the Earth’s magnetic field and use it to line up their bodies to face either north or south when resting or grazing. The phenomenon was discovered by a team of German researchers who studied Google Earth satellite photos of more than 8,500 cows in more than 300 pastures all over the world. The team discovered that the majority of cows faced in a north-south direction, regardless of where the sun was or how the wind blew.

The study began almost by accident. After conducting a similar study on mole rats, the researchers intended to study humans by analyzing the position of camping tents. They discovered that the images were too small to see, but when they noticed an abundance of cows in nearby fields, they decided to shift their focus. The researchers then wondered about other large mammals and turned their attention to deer. They looked at deer grazing patterns and examined oval imprints in the snow where the deer slept. Again, the researchers found a similar north-south orientation.

Past studies have shown that some mice can sense the Earth's magnetic field as well. Bats and some migrating birds use the magnetic field for navigation, but the benefits to cows and deer are unclear.

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