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Boffins finger reason for non-aligned cows

Power lines disrupt bovines' north-south grazing tendency

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The scientists who brought the world proof that, in keeping with ancient lore, cows really do graze along a north-south axis, have found the reason they sometimes fail to display their natural animal magnetism.

To recap, as we reported back in August last year, Sabine Begall and colleagues at the University of Duisburg-Essen examined 8,510 Google Earth images encompassing 308 pastures and plains worldwide, plus "deer bed" impressions in snow created by around 3,000 deer in over 225 locations in the Czech Republic.

The team reported that "whether grazing or resting, these animals face either magnetic north or south". Since the direction of the wind and sun "varied widely where the images were taken", the boffins concluded the beasts were reacting to the planet's magnetic influence.

However, it ain't always so, and here's why: The team now says it's proved that bovines' close proximity to overhead power lines - which emit a "mild electromagnetic field", as Wired puts it - is enough to disrupt their compass needle tendencies.

The researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences*: "These findings constitute evidence for magnetic sensation in large mammals as well as evidence of an overt behavioral reaction to weak [extreme low-frequency magnetic fields] in vertebrates."

Interestingly, this insight backs our own El Reg research into ruminant alignment. Avid followers of our in-depth cow coverage will recall that this hack last year observed around 20 local cows which were directionally all over the place. However, I can now confirm that the field in which they were grazing is indeed traversed by overhead powers lines. ®

Bootnote

*Extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields disrupt magnetic alignment of ruminants. By Hynek Burda, Sabine Begall, Jaroslav Cerveny, Julia Neef, and Pavel Nemec. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 106, No. 11, March 16, 2009.

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