Cows know how to point themselves north, researchers say
Scientists don't seem to know why exactly, but cows may have an internal compass similar to that of honeybees. A team of German and Czech researchers were startled to make the discovery, the first of its kind among large animals.
One tentative explanation given is that cows may align themselves with the Earth's magnetic field to stay cool, but I'm not sure why that would cool them off exactly.
In any case, the lesson to be learned here is don't mock cows. They may be your only hope if you're ever lost.
WASHINGTON - Talk about animal magnetism, cows seem to have a built-in compass. No bull: Somehow, cattle seem to know how to find north and south, say researchers who studied satellite photos of thousands of cows around the world.
Most cattle that were grazing or resting tended to align their bodies in a north-south direction, a team of German and Czech researchers reports in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
And the finding held true regardless of what continent the cattle were on, according to the study led by Hynek Burda and Sabine Begall of the faculty of biology at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany.
Two-thirds is close to what the researchers found in their look at 8,510 cattle in 308 pastures. In the study, 60 percent to 70 percent of cattle were oriented north-south, which Begall termed a "highly significant deviation from random distribution."
Hinchley stressed that one factor that must be considered is cow comfort.
"They don't like to get hot. Their body temperature is 102, and they are wearing black leather jackets, literally! If turning north-south would keep them cooler, they would stand that way."
With satellite images they could tell the north-south orientation of the animals, but not whether an individual cow was facing north or south. You have to get closer to tell which end is which.
Now the researchers are moving on to study sheep, goats, horses, wild boar and some further deer species, Begall added.
The current study said red and roe deer also were found to orient in a north-south direction when grazing and resting, but unlike the worldwide cattle study, the deer portion was limited to the Czech Republic.
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