Trout Snouts May Hold Secret to Migration, Study Finds

Trout Snouts May Hold Secret to Migration
A brown trout tries to jump a four-foot waterfall on Dry Run Creek, a tributary of the North Fork River in Baxter County, Ark. (AP Photo/Kevin Pieper)

Researchers isolated magnetic cells in the noses of trout for the first time, bringing them closer to solving the puzzle of how migratory animals navigate using Earth’s magnetic field.

Scientists for more than 50 years have known animals sense the field, yet have struggled to determine exactly how they do it or to what extent. The newly discovered cells contain iron-rich crystals and have a structure that make them about 100 times more sensitive to magnetic signals than originally believed, according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Magnetic reception is known for many kinds of animals, from insects and birds, to many kinds of fish and cattle,” said Stephan Eder, a researcher at the University of Munich’s department of earth and environmental sciences and the study’s lead author. It is unclear if all animals sense the magnetic field in the same way, he said.

The scientists exposed snout tissue from trout to a rotating magnetic field, causing the tissue cells to spin. That action helped identify the cells as magnetoreceptors, the study found.

“The method can be applied to any type of animal with slight adjustments to protocol,” he said. “It’s an important thing to understand how magnetic reception works.”

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