Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 158, Issue 1, pp 103–109 | Cite as

Magnetic compass orientation in the Eastern red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)

  • John B. Phillips


Laboratory tests were carried out to examine the orientation behavior of adult Eastern red-spotted newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) to earth-strength magnetic fields. Groups of 30 to 40 newts were housed in water-filled, all-glass aquaria with an artificial shoreline at one end. The aquaria were located in a greenhouse or outdoors adjacent to the laboratory building, and aligned on either the magnetic north-south or east-west axis. Tests were carried out in an enclosed indoor arena. Newts were tested in four horizontal alignments of the magnetic field: the ambient magnetic field (magnetic north at North) and three altered fields (magnetic north rotated to East, South or West). Data were analyzed after pooling the magnetic bearings from all four conditions in such a way as to retain the component of the newts' orientation that was a consistent response to the magnetic field. Elevation of training tank water temperature was used to increase the newts' motivation to orient in the direction of shore. Newts exposed to a training tank water temperature of 33–34 °C just prior to testing exhibited consistent unimodal magnetic compass orientation. The direction of orientation was altered predictably by changing training tank alignment and location relative to the laboratory building. The results provide the first evidence of a strong, replicable magnetic compass response in a terrestrial vertebrate under controlled laboratory conditions. Further, the present study demonstrates that the Eastern newt is able to learn a directional response relative to the earth's magnetic field.


Control Laboratory Condition Magnetic Bearing Magnetic Compass Ambient Magnetic Field Horizontal Alignment 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • John B. Phillips
    • 1
  1. 1.Section of Neurobiology & BehaviorCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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