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No. 9: Winter 1979

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Have magnets, will travel

Homing pigeons seem to possess at least two direction sensors. Years of experiments with released birds have proved that they use sun compasses on sunny days but have magnetic backups for cloudy days. But how do they sense the earth's magnetic field? Paired-coil tests suggested that the pigeon compass resided in the neck or back of the head. Narrowing the search with sensitive magnetometers and two dozen dissected pigeons, the authors discovered tiny bits of tissue containing magnetite crystals. The same tissues contained yellow crystals likely made by the iron-storage protein ferritin, which was probably used in the biological synthesis of the magnetite.

(Walcott, Charles, et al; "Pigeons Have Magnets," Science, 205:1027, 1979)

Comment. Many species of mud bacteria also synthesize magnetite for purposes of orientation, indicating that nature or some directive force used the same strategy in two widely separated species.

From Science Frontiers #9, Winter 1979. 1979-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987