Of canids and magnetic fields

Since this blog is known for its pet peeve (pun intended) regarding dogs and poo, I of course must post this recent scientific discovery: under calm magnetic field conditions, dogs tend to align their bodies along the north/south magnetic axis while taking a crap.

What really horrifies me is that this research involved supposedly sane, well-educated individuals — twelve of them! — closely observing 1,893 poops and 5,582 pees. You could not pay me to do this. But I would have loved to have seen the grant proposal for this study.

Of much greater interest, and no horror at all, is a study of foxes and their ability to catch mice that can’t be seen. Now this study I’d have happily joined:

[Jaroslav] Červený spent over two years studying wild red foxes in the Czech Republic, with the help of a 23-strong team of wildlife biologists and experienced hunters. The team recorded almost 600 mousing jumps, performed by 84 foxes at a wide variety of locations and times.

And what did this team learn from watching all of those jumps? That the foxes have a far greater chance of success if they orient themselves about 20 degrees off magnetic north:

If they pounced to the north-east, they killed on 73% of their attacks; if they jumped in the opposite direction, the success rate stayed at 60%. In all other directions, only 18% of their pounces were successful.

Time of day, season, cloud cover, wind direction — none of these made a difference. The most obvious remaining factor is magnetic field lines.

Červený suggests that a red fox could use the Earth’s magnetic field as a “rangefinder”, to estimate the distance to its prey and make a more accurate pounce. This targeting system works because the Earth’s magnetic field tilts downward in the northern hemisphere, at an angle of 60-70 degrees below the horizontal. As the fox creeps forward, it listens for the sound of a mouse. It’s searching for that sweet spot where the angle of the sound hitting its ears matches the slope of the Earth’s magnetic field. At that spot, the fox knows that it’s a fixed distance away from its prey, and it knows exactly how far to jump to land upon it.

So. Cool. And let’s just say it: way cooler than lining up for a crap.

Check out Not Exactly Rocket Science for more on magnetically orienting foxes, and Krulwich Wonders for a simpler explanation, along with a charming video of the foxes in action.

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in biology, science. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Of canids and magnetic fields

  1. Endeavor says:

    The worst is, I was sitting in the lobby and someone let their dog crap on the lawn. I am on chemo, I was not chasing him. It was north/south, said canine pooper.
    Now I will take note..damn you. 🙂

  2. Jorge says:

    Yeah, that first study is indeed pretty crappy.

    (what? Someone HAD to say it!)

  3. Ana_ñ says:

    LOL. Of course you had to post it! 😀
    If a subsequent study demonstrates some benefit from such magnetic alignment, we will soon be sitting on a swiveling toilet with a compass…

    Now, the foxes in action are amazing! 🙂

    • oregon expat says:

      Hey, check the news out of the Consumer Electronics Show. Maybe there’s a swiveling toilet with an iPad attachment for showing the compass app, along with an app for recording the success of…oh, never mind.

  4. xenatuba says:

    I had seen the video of the foxes. I am NOT watching video of the dogs. I don’t think my friend Hunter lines himself up on a north/south axis, but now I know I am going to be provoked into paying attention to that.

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