Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
. 2008 Feb 27;3(2):e1676.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001676.

Bats Use Magnetite to Detect the Earth's Magnetic Field

Free PMC article

Bats Use Magnetite to Detect the Earth's Magnetic Field

Richard A Holland et al. PLoS One. .
Free PMC article


While the role of magnetic cues for compass orientation has been confirmed in numerous animals, the mechanism of detection is still debated. Two hypotheses have been proposed, one based on a light dependent mechanism, apparently used by birds and another based on a "compass organelle" containing the iron oxide particles magnetite (Fe(3)O(4)). Bats have recently been shown to use magnetic cues for compass orientation but the method by which they detect the Earth's magnetic field remains unknown. Here we use the classic "Kalmijn-Blakemore" pulse re-magnetization experiment, whereby the polarity of cellular magnetite is reversed. The results demonstrate that the big brown bat Eptesicus fuscus uses single domain magnetite to detect the Earths magnetic field and the response indicates a polarity based receptor. Polarity detection is a prerequisite for the use of magnetite as a compass and suggests that big brown bats use magnetite to detect the magnetic field as a compass. Our results indicate the possibility that sensory cells in bats contain freely rotating magnetite particles, which appears not to be the case in birds. It is crucial that the ultrastructure of the magnetite containing magnetoreceptors is described for our understanding of magnetoreception in animals.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Vanishing bearings of A, control, B, parallel-pulsed and C, antiparallel pulsed bats.
The mean direction and 95% confidence interval are shown. The arrow on the edge of the circle indicates the home direction.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Tracks of A, control bats B, bats pulsed parallel to the biasing field and C, bats pulsed antiparallel to the biasing field.
Vector arrows represent the vanishing bearing and distance. Numbers identify the track and the vanishing bearing associated with it.

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 28 articles

See all "Cited by" articles


    1. Beason RC, Dussourd N, Deutschlander ME. Behavioral Evidence for the Use of Magnetic Material in Magnetoreception by a Migratory Bird. Journal of Experimental Biology. 1995;198:141–146. - PubMed
    1. Wiltschko W, Wiltschko R. Magnetic compass of European Robins. Science. 1972;176:62–64. - PubMed
    1. Gould JL, Kirschvink JL, Deffeyes KS, Brines ML. Orientation of demagnetized bees. Journal of Experimental Biology. 1980;86:1–8.
    1. Lohmann KJ, Pentcheff ND, Nevitt GA, Stetten GD, Zimmer-Faust RK. Magnetic orientation of spiny lobsters in the ocean: experiments with underseas coil systems. Journal of Experimental Biology. 1995;198:2041–2048. - PubMed
    1. Phillips JB. Two magnetoreception pathways in a migratory salamander. Science. 1986;233:765–767. - PubMed

Publication types