crocodile homing ability, magnets and animal homing

Will Taping Magnets to Crocodiles’ Heads Keep Them Away?

February 26, 2009 12:22 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
Florida is experimenting with magnets to deter crocodiles from residential neighborhoods, another instance of using technology to influence animal instincts.

Skillful Navigators Difficult to Deter

Wildlife managers are “temporarily taping magnets” to crocodiles’ heads in an attempt to prevent the animals from going back into residential neighborhoods in Florida. The method has been successful in Mexico, according to researchers at the Chiapas Crocodile Museum, reports Reuters.

Crocodiles have an amazing ability to return to their homes after relocation, a phenomenon known as “homing.” In 2007, the BBC reported that three crocodiles “shocked experts” in Australia by traveling hundreds of miles home after being relocated and tracked by researchers.

Professor Craig Franklin of the University of Queensland told the BBC, “We often thought crocodiles tired very quickly but here we show very clearly that they are capable of moving long distances for days on end.” But crocodiles’ unique homing ability remains a mystery. Researchers theorize that the position of the sun and magnetic fields, as well as their own sensory information, aid crocodiles’ skillful navigation.

“Crocodiles are more closely related to birds than they are any other reptile so they are possibly using navigation systems similar to birds,” Franklin told the BBC.

New Scientist also reported on the three Australian crocodiles, and questioned Franklin and Richard Gibson, herpetology curator at the Zoological Society of London, about the animals’ swimming prowess and ability to traverse great distances.

Gibson explained that “crocodiles can get swept out to sea by high tides and storms,” which could have made them better swimmers over time. Furthermore, crocodiles are widely distributed across the globe, “another indicator that they can naturally travel long distances,” Gibson suggested to New Scientist.

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Related Topic: Elephant text messaging

Kenya is also utilizing technology to influence elephants. By implanting mobile phone cards in elephants’ collars, the government is hoping to protect both elephant and human populations. The SIM card implants send out warnings by text message when the animals approach farms. The cards work in coordination with virtual “geofences,” using a global positioning system that outlines geographic boundaries.

Background: Animal homing and magnetism

In an article for PBS’s “Nova” program, Peter Tyson discusses the possibility of “mass extinction” due to the weakening of Earth’s magnetic shield. The magnetic shield helps many species navigate and find their way back to certain places, an ability known as homing.

Animal magnetism is the ability to “tap into the magnetic field” of the Earth, and is evident in almost every species. John Phillips, a Virginia Polytechnic Institute behavioral biologist, has detected magnetism “in everything from fruit flies to frogs,” according to Tyson.

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