are cows magnetic?

September 11, 2008 at 2:05 pm | | literature

Yes they are. Or at least their butts and noses are: Begall, S. et alMagnetic alignment in grazing and resting cattle and deer. PNAS 2008, 105, 13451–13455. This is what happens when I filter my RSS feeds: I miss papers like this one and read about them on blogs.

The authors looked at Google Earth images of cows and deer, finding that they tend to align themselves along Earth’s magnetic field:

We marked the cattle’s longitudinal axis by drawing a straight line with the Powerpoint drawing tools and estimated for each animal separately its direction to the nearest 5° by overlaying a circular scale with 10° steps.

Crazy. I read parts of the paper, and it looks like careful analysis. For instance, they took into account the possibility that individual cows may align themselves to others in a herd, so herds were analyzed separately.

I worry a little about using Google Earth because it is not guarenteed to be accurate: Google could have aligned those cows!


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  1. I was wondering whether the cows were maybe just lining up to get the best rays of the sun. We could see whether that’s the case by perhaps looking at how cows line up in doors, but alas, Google has yet to perfect its x-ray vision…so far as we know.

    Comment by jordan — September 11, 2008 #

  2. or just check out the outdoor cows on a cloudy day…which has similar visibility problems.

    Comment by jordan — September 11, 2008 #

  3. This would cause the cow direction to be aligned with respect to geographical North. They found that the animals were aligned with magnetic North.

    Comment by MRW — September 12, 2008 #

  4. Having checked some lay-sites on this, it seems farmer’s commonly experience disorganized cows on cloudy days. However, this is anecdotal. I need a very hefty government grant to verify.

    Comment by jordan — September 15, 2008 #

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