Google Earthing Cow Directions

Here’s a fun bit of Google Earth-utilizing research:

Magnetic alignment in grazing and resting cattle and deer, Begall et al, PNAS

“We demonstrate by means of simple, noninvasive methods (analysis of satellite images, field observations, and measuring “deer beds” in snow) that domestic cattle (n = 8,510 in 308 pastures) across the globe, and grazing and resting red and roe deer (n = 2,974 at 241 localities), align their body axes in roughly a north–south direction.”

Apparently this work follows on from previous research the team has done on the sensing of magnetic fields by naked mole rats. In this case, they used Google Earth to scroll around looking for cows, then once they had documented 8510 of them, decided they tend to lie down facing north-south. And likewise for deer.

Here’s some more
from NPR.

“Holland says that other researchers should confirm the finding. One way of doing that would be to “start going out and putting magnets on the heads of cows and horses and deer, to see how that affects them,” he says. “That’s one of the more traditional ways of testing if they have a magnetic sense.”

If they really do have an internal compass, he says, the magnet would mess it up.”

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