Google Earth reveals cattle have a built-in compass
August 25, 2008
Cattle, along with grazing deer, tend to align themselves with the Earth’s magnetic field lines, in a north-south direction, report researchers writing in the early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The finding suggests that cows seem to have a built-in magnetic compass.
Analyzing Google Earth images of 8,510 cattle in 308 pastures and plains around the world, as well as field data collected on nearly 3,000 deer across more than 225 locations in the Czech Republic, Sabine Begall and colleagues show that cattle and deer tended to face either magnetic north or south when grazing or resting.
“Because the direction of wind and sunlight varied widely in the different locations, the researchers conclude that the Earth’s magnetic field is the common factor that could somehow be influencing the animals,” explained a statement from PNAS.
Overall 60-70 percent of cattle were oriented north-south.
The authors speculate that the orientation may have something to do with comfort. They plan to see if other species — including sheep, goats, horses, wild boar and other deer — orient themselves in a similar pattern.