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Walk This Way

By on January 1, 2009
RoadKing Mag

Talk about herd mentality.

When it comes to doing everything together, cows have just about everyone beat. From sleeping and eating to huddling together when it rains, cattle cope through their day-to-day activities as, well, a herd. But now it seems they do all of these things facing in the same direction.

Images from Google Earth have confirmed that cattle tend to align their bodies in the magnetic north-south direction, leading researchers to believe that they have an internal magnetic compass to help their sense of direction, just like smaller bats, birds and salmon do.

It has already been understood that grazing animals orient themselves to minimize heat loss from wind or to maximize their exposure to sunlight. But new research shows the Earth?s magnetic field is a common factor that could be influencing the animals, ruling out wind and sun as reasons they face the same way.

Dr. Sabine Begall from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, and a team of researchers, studied Google Earth images of nearly 9,000 grazing and resting cattle in 308 pasture plains located randomly across the globe.

And though they were unable to distinguish the head from tail, they were able to determine the cows were facing either north or south.

The team reports in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that in places such as the coastal U.S., where the direction of the magnetic north pole differs from geographic north, the group found that cattle positioned themselves toward the magnetic poles.

But why do they do this? Possibly for the cows it is a basic tool for mentally mapping their usual surroundings as well as learning new landmarks.

So if you ever find yourself wandering aimlessly in a pasture, just look to the cows to get yourself going in the right direction again.

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