Want to go north? Ask a cow

August 27th, 2008 - 1:35 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Aug 27 (IANS) The cow is considered sacred in India. Now scientists know it is also a dependable, navigational compass.Scientists watched thousands of Google images of the humble quadruped in India, Britain, Ireland, USA to conclude cows automatically point to the north because they have their own inbuilt compasses aligning with the earth’s magnetic field.

Although, in many cases, the images were not clear enough to determine which way the cattle were facing they were aligned on a north/south axis.

The research was carried out by Dr Sabine Begall and colleagues from the University of Duisburg-Essen, according to a report in The Telegraph.

The innate ability of cows to find north is believed to be a relic from the days when their wild ancestors needed an accurate sense of direction to migrate across the plains of Africa, Asia and Europe.

Huge variations in the wind direction and sunlight in the areas where the beasts were found meant that the scientists were able to rule out those factors as being responsible for the direction they were facing.

“We conclude that the magnetic field is the only common and most likely factor responsible for the observed alignment,” the scientists wrote in an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

It is already known that many species use the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate across the planet. Examples include migratory turtles, salmon, termites and birds.

Animals are thought to use their own internal magnets made of crystals of magnetite. Homing pigeons have a small amount of the substance on their beaks, which gives them their uncannily accurate powers of navigation.

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