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Weird science, magnetic cows edition

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Geplaatst op 21 maart 2009 - 16:00

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Welcome to the second edition of our rundown of some of the stranger bits of science news from the past week. Last week's headline story was about a chimp that prepared weaponry to assault tourists at a zoo in Sweden. This week, we have another story on our nearest relatives (at the species level) arming themselves. The victims: bees. The BBC has a story, with accompanying videos, about how chimps in the Republic of Congo have decided that the difficult-to-access nests of stingless bees are worth the hassle, which may involve pounding open tree trunks using tools they prepare. Not much planning involved, but definitely a bit of weaponry.

Magnetic cows: This one had me at the title: "Extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields disrupt magnetic alignment of ruminants." The first sentence did not disappoint, either, stating, "resting and grazing cattle and deer tend to align their body axes in the geomagnetic North-South direction." The question here was whether this was truly magnetic sensing, or some sort of visual orientation. The researchers got their answer by observing that grazing near the electromagnetic fields of high-voltage power lines reoriented the herd, suggesting that cows have an innate ability to sense magnetic fields. It's an excellent example of what's often termed a "natural experiment," if you'll accept that there's almost nothing natural about power lines. I wonder how cows align themselves in Australia...

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