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Review
, 84, 187-213

Magnetic Orientation and the Magnetic Sense in Arthropods

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Review

Magnetic Orientation and the Magnetic Sense in Arthropods

M M Walker. EXS.

Abstract

The physical properties of the earth's magnetic field are summarized with the aim of emphasizing their significance as cues that can be exploited in orientational tasks. Past work has revealed magnetic orientation in vertebrates as well as invertebrates, including arthropods. The key finding to date has been that, as opposed to many vertebrates, the magnetic compass of arthropods responds to the polarity, rather than to the inclination of the earth's magnetic field. As in the case of vertebrates, the debate over how arthropods detect magnetic fields has yet to be resolved. Currently, evidence has been reported in support of a detection system based on magnetite crystals together with a variety of detection systems based on events occurring at the molecular level. Interactions between the magnetic and other compasses in orientation experiments suggest the existence of an area in the brain where spatial orientation information from magnetic and other stimuli converges. The slow advance of our knowledge on magnetic orientation in arthropods, as opposed to the much better understanding of magnetic orientation in vertebrates, arises from difficulties in identifying the appropriate behavioural contexts in which arthropods respond to magnetic fields in both laboratory and field situations. Arthropods thus present challenges not only in demonstrating magnetic orientation, but also in elucidating the sensory mechanisms involved in the perception of magnetic fields.

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