What a Marvel!

CompassMany of us know Magneto as a character in the Marvel Comics X-Men series; however, the word is now being used to describe a newly proposed ability found within snakes and other animals which could also be considered a marvel. The previously mentioned pheromone trails will help many snakes to find their way when they are close enough to the den to begin crossing over the trails left by other snakes. But what about the snakes that are so far enough away that they may not be near any other snakes, or the one snake that is the first to arrive at the den?

An ability called magneto-reception is currently being tested. This line of thought theorizes that the snakes are able to find their way thanks to a type of “compass” found inside their brains. Scientists recently found magnetic granules inside the brains of these snakes, which may help to direct these snakes much like the magnetized needle of a compass would tell you which way is north. Perhaps the Earth’s magnetic field helps direct these snakes. Although this theory is new and has not been proven, preliminary testing has shown that there is evidence to support this idea.

Snake on a branchSnakes may use magneto-reception to help them determine which direction to travel. Photo Courtesy of Paul Hancock To test this theory, snakes were divided into two groups. The first group had a small magnet attached to the top of each of their heads; the second group had a small piece of brass attached to theirs. Brass does not have any affect on magnets, so this metal was used to rule out the possibility that the snakes could be confused by the mere fact of having something attached to their heads. The snakes with the magnets on their heads seemed to move about without any sense of direction and appeared confused, while those with only brass on their heads slithered about normally. This was enough to give scientists an idea of the purpose of these magnetic granules. Hopefully, within the next few years we can learn more about how these snakes navigate across the Manitoba landscape.