Biogenic magnetite as a basis for magnetic field detection in animals

Biosystems. 1981;13(3):181-201. doi: 10.1016/0303-2647(81)90060-5.


Bacteria, sharks, honey bees, and homing pigeons as well as other organisms seem to detect the direction of the earth's magnetic field. Indirect but reproducible evidence suggests that the bees and birds can also respond to very minute changes in its intensity. The mechanisms behind this sensitivity are not known. Naturally magnetic, biologically precipitated magnetite (Fe3O4) has been found in chitons, magnetotactic bacteria, honey bees, homing pigeons, and dolphins. Its mineralization in localized areas may be associated with the ability of these animals to respond to the direction and intensity of the earth's magnetic field. The presence of large numbers (approximately 10(8)) of superparamagnetic magnetite crystals in honey bees and similar numbers of single-domain magnetite grains in pigeons suggests that there may be at least two basic types of ferrimagnetic magnetoreceptive organelles. Theoretical calculations show that ferrimagnetic organs using either type of grain when integrated by the nervous system are capable of accounting for even the most extreme magnetic field sensitivities reported. Indirect evidence suggests that organic magnetite may be a common biological component, and may account for the results of numerous high field and electromagnetic experiments on animals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Columbidae / physiology*
  • Ferrosoferric Oxide
  • Iron / physiology*
  • Magnetics*
  • Oxides*


  • Oxides
  • Iron
  • Ferrosoferric Oxide