Mole rats use their eyes to detect magnetic fields
Published: 2023-02-20 11:47:23 • Daniel Gårdefelt
Mole rats have a remarkable ability: they can detect the Earth’s magnetic field! This phenomenon was first discovered in 2006 when researchers trained mole rats to navigate mazes using their sensitive sense of magnetism. Studies since then have proven that, indeed, some species of mole rat are capable of perceiving the Earth’s magnetic field using a unique mechanism: their eyes.
Mole rats possess specialized proteins found in photoreceptors called cryptochromes. These proteins allow them to see light from the ultraviolet spectrum and interact with the Earth’s geomagnetic fields. Interestingly enough, these proteins also occur in other animals like migratory birds and sea turtles, allowing them to use magnetic fields for navigation as well.
The ability of mole rats to sense magnetic fields has important implications for their behavior and ecology. For one, it helps them orient themselves in unfamiliar environments and underground tunnels, which is why they build complex networks of burrows on the ground. It also allows them to recognize their individual paths when returning home after foraging for food or interacting with other mole rats. Finally, it might be used to help them find suitable partners during breeding season by picking up pheromones from potential mates that are carried in the Earth’s magnetic field!