It seems that some migratory ants navigate by staying in tune with the Earth’s magnetic field.

Scientists recently discovered that some migratory ants have particles of magnetic iron minerals implanted in their body. These particles act like compass needles and give the ants a sense of direction.

In one particular species of Brazilian ant, the ants travel preferentially in a north-south direction. The discovery that these ants contain tiny crystals of magnetic iron minerals in their heads and abdomens suggests that they use their entire body as a compass needle. In this way they are able to sense where they’re heading relative to Earth’s magnetic field.

Scientists are hopeful that this study of magnetic ants will help them understand the challenging question: How do migratory creatures develop a sense of direction?

Grains of magnetic material have been found in a number of other organisms, including some bacteria, as well as in bees and the noses of some species of fish. The challenge is to understand how magnetism is sensed by these organisms. Unlike senses such as vision or hearing, which use specific organs to detect light and sound, natural magneto-reception deals with diffuse stimulation. The entire organism must behave as a tiny living compass needle in order to respond to the Earth’s field.

So next time you’re lost, envy the creatures endowed with natural magnetism.