It has long been recognised that birds use the Earth's magnetic field (MF) for navigational purposes, but a recent study published in Frontiers in Zoology has uncovered a rather more unexpected animal response to this enigmatic MF energy.
It transpires that, when they stoop to poop, dogs prefer to align their bodies to the north-south axis of the Earth as signified by the geomagnetic field.
What the study did not manage to determine was why dogs choose to do this, but after observing 70 dogs of different 37 breeds 1,893 times during defecation, the scientists were able to confirm with some confidence that "dogs preferred to excrete with the body being aligned along the North-south axis under calm MF conditions."
The study, which was undertaken by scientists at the University of Life Sciences in Prague, took place over a two-year period and the data was categorized according to the prevalent geomagnetic conditions during the sampling periods. When conditions were unstable, for example when solar flares affected the stability of the MF, it was noted that the sensitivity to the MF was not observed and the dogs would defecate in random directions.
The two year study also made 5,582 observations of dogs during urination; using the data compiled, researchers were able to unequivocally prove a measurable and predictable behavioral reaction to magnetic field fluctuations in mammals. The study also suggested that it was small changes in polarity that dogs responded to rather than the intensity of magnetic field; true north, is of course,slightly different to the magnetic north, and it was the polarity that seemed to be of biological significance for our furry friends.
The study is considered to be very important because it could open up new horizons in magnetoreception research.
The capacity of animals to detect impending earthquakes is well-documented, and scientists now believe that these intuitive abilities are also triggered by responses to the Earth's magnetic field. The recent study into dog defecation appears to confirm this sensitivity, and it seems that we should be recognising and utilising this amazing talent. In other cultures, such as Japan and China, it was accepted that animals possessed insights about the onset of natural elements and disasters; in fact Chinese authorities identified 58 species of animals thought to be useful for earthquake prediction, especially snakes, rodents and bats, and compiled booklets with depictions and descriptions of unusual animal behaviour to look out for.
Other studies have been able to provide solid evidence of this type of behavior in other animals: Israeli scientists conducted an experiment with rats that indicated a strong sensitivity to MF variations. They built underground structures with multiple passageways and no surface access. Two groups of rats were released into separate networks of tunnels, one group being influenced only by the natural magnetic field while the other was subjected to a magnetic field that the scientists could change. They found out that the two groups behaved differently, slept and ate in different places.
There are concerns that the Earth's magnetic field is weakening, however, and it is not yet known how this will affect animal behavior, particularly in birds and other migrating animals who rely on the MF as a type of GPS system for navigational purposes. Scientists are fairly confident, however, that animals can quickly adapt to variations in magnetic fields; there is no evidence to indicate that animals have become extinct during the geologic history of the earth because of changes in the magnetic fields.
It certainly appears that the animal kingdom has much to reveal to us about living in connection and harmony with this wonderful world; hopefully the term 'dumb animals' will eventually become obsolete as we begin to discover that it is actually the human race who live in ignorance of the mysterious rhythms orchestrated by our universe. We may barely have begun to understand the incredible intuitive powers of the animal world, restricted as we are by our lack of sixth sensory awareness; let us hope that science can help us to make further progress in this fascinating area.