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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Red fox navigation

Credit: Paul Zwolak
Red fox navigation 

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) may use the Earth's magnetic field as a hunting aid.

The animal, common to British Columbia, leaps high into the air to strike prey from above. A team of European researchers recently noted that, in situations where prey was obscured by snow or grass cover, their test subjects were successful 74 percent of the time when attacking northward, and 60 percent when jumping southward. The foxes also jumped in other directions, but with less than 18 percent success.

The researchers suspect the fox has a magnetic sensor in its eyes that helps it see magnetic field lines sloping into the earth. Relying on its keen ears, it likely creeps up on rustling prey until the sound source is superimposed by a spot on the retina, which aligns with the magnetic field line inclination. At a given height and slope of the head, that "sweet spot" is always the same distance from the fox, allowing it to execute a well-rehearsed jump to nab its dinner.

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