Spontaneous preferences for magnetic compass direction in the American red-spotted newt, Notophthalmus viridescens (Salamandridae, Urodela)
Journal of Ethology 25(2): 177-184
In addition to other sensory modalities, migratory vertebrates are able to use the earths' magnetic field for orientation and navigation. The magnetic cue may also serve as a reference for other orientation mechanisms. In this study, significant evidence is shown that, even in darkness, newts (Notophthalmus viridescens, Salamandridae) spontaneously align according to the natural or to the deviated earth's magnetic field lines, thereby demonstrating a magnetic compass sensitivity. All newts preferred compass directions close to east or west or chose the E/W axially and hence sought to maintain a specific angle or axis relative to the magnetic field vector. Such an active alignment is considered an essential precondition for magnetic orientation. When the horizontal magnetic vector was experimentally compensated, animals became disoriented. We infer that the animals have either learned the preferred magnetic direction/axis individually or that these choices are innate and could even be seasonally different as in migrating birds. It is still an unanswered question as to how and where the physical and physiological mechanisms of magnetic transduction and reception take place. The visual system and other light-dependent (radical pairs) mechanisms alone are often claimed to be in function, but this must now be reconsidered given the results from animals when deprived of light. The results may therefore point to putative receptor mechanisms involving magnetite elements in specialized magneto-receptors.