Magnetic stimuli Essay

This essay has a total of 1814 words and 8 pages.


magnetic stimuli





The Role of Magnetic Stimuli in Animals
In as early in the year 1855 Minddendorf proposed the idea of broad front, one-direction
migration also suggested a means of orientation, that birds were capable of detecting the
magnetic poles and of maintaining their bearing therefrom. Since then many similar ideas
have continued to pop up at random intervals (Carthy 56). An immediate difficulty is the
lack of any structure or tissue that could possibly react to the magnetic field. In the
year 1948, the discovery of certain forces were indeed produced by placing
‘non-magnetic’ material in a magnetic field, however they were far too minute
to merit any serious consideration (Carthy 59).

Some reports speak of heightened locomotor activity and heartbeat, when in close proximity
to increased magnetic fields; a fact which might mean that a kinesis-based magnetism is a
possibility. A study was done in which magnets were attached to birds and released in
sunny (or starry) conditions have repeatedly been shown to have no effect on orientation
(Dorst 24). However recently it has been shown that pigeons repeatedly released under
conditions of heavy overcast (in areas where the recognition of landmarks could not
rigorously excluded) have an orientation which is disturbed by magnets. Most workers with
caged birds have failed to find any tracer of orientation in a planetarium with all the
stars blocked off or in any closed room (32). This phenomenon definitely shows evidence
that some if not all birds use celestial bodies. One group studying magnetic orientation
in birds has consistently claimed to the contrary. Their accumulated data does seem to
show some directional tendencies but the scatter distribution is so wide that their
significance could be said to be more statistical than biological. There are suggestions
that there may be at least a north/south klino- or tropptaxis to the magnetic field. It
must be remembered that no-one has yet been able to give the slightest indication of what
the magnetic-sensitive organs are, nor whether they have sufficient acuity for us to be
able to speak of a menotaxis, let alone orientation. By contrast, the bird’s eye is
a very highly developed sense organ. Recent work suggests that European robins do not
even detect north from the polarity of the magnetic field but from its angle to the
horizon (43).

Hypotheses that the earth magnetic field could provide a navigational grid date as far
back as the work Viguier completed in 1882. The outcome of his work suggested that birds
could detect and measure three components of the field, its intensity, inclination (the
angle which a compass needle makes with the horizontal) and declination (the angle between
magnetic and geographical north). These three components vary more or less with
independence of one another so that their isolines would form a complex grid. Over the
next few years, several different scientists restated this hypothesis, with minor
variations. The complete lack of evidence for any direct reaction to a magnetic field in
birds is a very questionable issue (Carthy 46). Can birds actually use magnetic stimuli
as an internal compass? Well Casamajor (1927) and Wodzicki (1939) found that fixing
magnets to the head of the Pigeon and the Stork, had no effect on their homing ability.
There are many other theoretical difficulties that may provide an answer as to why the
magnets did not affect the homing ability of the two animals in question (48). An
important one is that measurement of declination requires an exact knowledge of
geographical north. Elimination of the declination isolines from the magnetic grid
reduces the plausibility of the whole scheme, since the inclination and intensity isolines
generally cross one another at oblique angles making good ‘fixes’ impossible
(Lincoln 79).

With these initial theoretical difficulties in mind the concept of direct sensitivity was
therefore replaced by one of indirect sensitivity to the earth’s magnetic field, and
the whole hypothesis was resurrected (Lincoln 89). In the year 1947, Yeagley suggested
that the flying bird, which acted as a linear conductor moving through the lines of force
field, could detect the earth’s field. Theoretically this would result in a small
potential difference being set up between the two ends of the conductor, though at this
time had not been demonstrated in practice (90).

While the theoretical case against the detection and measurement of the earth’s
magnetic field by indirect methods is overwhelming, a good deal has also been done to test
the hypothesis from a practical point of view. When dealing with certain biological
systems the results of such experiments are always more convincing than physical arguments
that may be based on false premises (Carthy 112). Griffin reported two techniques aimed
at disturbing an electro-magnetic apparatus in 1940. The first passed electric currents
through the heads of Pigeons before the release and the other subjected Leach’s
Petrels to an intense electro-magnetic field for a few seconds before the beginning of the
outward journey from home (Griffin 61). In both cases no effects on homing were apparent
but the techniques were not very critical as it is really required that the bird should be
subjected to ‘interference’ during the actual flight (62). Fixing magnets
rigidly to the head will not be a satisfactory test since the additional field would be
constant which could be taken in to account by the analyzing mechanism. It is therefore
essential that the magnets should move relative to the bird’s body. It was
imperative to attach small, powerful magnets to the wins of Pigeons, sewing them on
through the metacarpal joints (70). The fluctuating e.m.f. induced in the bird’s
body when the wings were beating would swamp any measurement of that induced by the
movement of the body through the earth’s field (71). By using only ten Pigeons
treated in this way and ten control birds with copper bars, Yeagley claimed to have
established that the magnets had a strongly deleterious effect on homing (73).

To the contrary of Yeagley’s findings, many retests that involved the variables of
his experiments proved countless times that his hypothesis was completely unacceptable.
Unacceptable not only because of its theoretical impossibility, but also because the
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