A subterranean mammal uses the magnetic compass for path integration

Tali Kimchi*, Ariane S. Etienne, Joseph Terkel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Path integration allows animals to navigate without landmarks by continuously processing signals generated through locomotion. Insects such as bees and ants have evolved an accurate path integration system, assessing and coding rotations with the help of a general directional reference, the sun azimuth. In mammals, by contrast, this process can take place through purely idiothetic (mainly proprioceptive and vestibular) signals. However, without any stable external reference for measuring direction, path integration is highly affected by cumulative errors and thus has been considered so far as valid only for short-distance navigation. Here we show through two path integration experiments (homing and shortcut finding) that the blind mole rat assesses direction both through internal signals and by estimating its heading in relation to the earth's magnetic field. Further, it is shown that the greater the circumvolution and length of the traveled path, the more the animal relies on the geomagnetic field. This path integration system strongly reduces the accumulation of errors due to inaccuracies in the estimation of rotations and thus allows the mole rat to navigate efficiently in darkness, without the help of any landmark, over both short and long distances.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1105-1109
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume101
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 27 Jan 2004

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