Foxes and Magnetic Range Finders

Fox Most of us have either seen foxes hunting for mice, or have seen movies of their behavior. It has always been a mystery to me how the fox can be in high grass or in a snow-covered landscape and repeatedly and consistently catch its prey. The fox will jump in the air and come down on a place where there does not seem to be anything, and pull a mouse out of the snow or the high grass. How do they know where to land when they leap into the air several feet away with no visual clues as to where the mouse might be?

Recent studies in Europe and the United States have shown that there is a magnetic tool used by the foxes to locate their prey. These studies show that 75% of all successful attacks in high cover or under snow occur in a northerly direction, well within the inclination of the earth’s magnetic field at that location. The studies were done under all kinds of weather conditions, at different times of the day, and in different geographic locations.

The fox will tilt its head sideways so that its ears are at different elevations above the ground. The sound from a mouse will arrive at the ears at different times giving a distance to the mouse. (Owls are known to use this same methodology.) The fox then moves toward the unseen prey along the compass bearing for that location until the sound relationship coincides with the inclination of the magnetic field. That will always be the same distance for that location, and the fox simply jumps to the same point every time it hunts. One researcher put it this way, “Think of a laser pointer attached to you that always points slightly downwards in the same direction.” If a reflector on the ground will reflect the laser beam, and you want to find that reflector just walk towards it until you hit it, and you know that is the spot. Recent studies have shown many animals using magnetic fields for all kinds of purposes, but this seems to be unique.

Foxes have an onboard “targeting system” to measure distance to prey. Without such a design not only would the foxes go hungry in winter and high grass conditions, but rodents would become so numerous they would wipe out the food supplies of all land life. Designing equipment that maintains a balance is vital to the survival of life on earth, and we are just beginning to understand how complex some of these systems are. We can know there is a God through the things He has made (Romans 1:20).

Reference: Wisconsin Outdoor News, May 20, 2011, page 21.

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