No alignment of cattle along geomagnetic field lines found


This paper presents a study of the body orientation of domestic cattle on free pastures in several European states, based on the Google satellite photographs. In sum, 232 herds with 3,412 individuals were evaluated. Two independent groups participated in our study and came to the same conclusion that in contradiction to the recent findings of other researchers, no alignment of the animals and of their herds along geomagnetic field lines could be found. Several possible reasons for this discrepancy should be taken into consideration: poor quality of Google satellite photographs, difficulties in determining the body axis, selection of herds or animals within herds, lack of blinding in the evaluation, possible subconscious bias, and, most importantly, high sensitivity of the calculated main directions of the Rayleigh vectors to some kind of bias or to some overlooked or ignored confounder. This factor could easily have led to an unsubstantiated positive conclusion about the existence of magnetoreception.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. Begall S, Cerveny J, Neef J, Vojtech O, Burda H (2008) Magnetic alignment in grazing and resting cattle and deer. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 105:13451–13455

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Burda H, Begall S, Cerveny J, Neef J, Nemec P (2009) Extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields disrupt magnetic alignment of ruminants. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106:5708–5713

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Dennis TE, Rayner MJ, Walker MM (2007) Evidence that pigeons orient to geomagnetic intensity during homing. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 274:1153–1158

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Johnsen S, Lohmann KJ (2005) The physics and neurobiology of magnetoreception. Nat Rev Neurosci 6:703–712

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Kalmijn AJ (1978) Animal migration, navigation, and homing. Springer, Berlin

    Google Scholar 

  6. Kirschvink JL, Walker MM, Diebel CE (2001) Magnetite-based magnetoreception. Curr Opin Neurobiol 11:462–467

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Mardia KV, Jupp PE (2000) Directional statistics. Wiley, Chichester

    Google Scholar 

  8. Ritz T, Adem S, Schulten K (2000) A model for photoreceptor-based magnetoreception in birds. Biophys J 78:707–718

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Schuz J, Ahlbom A (2008) Exposure to electromagnetic fields and the risk of childhood leukemia: a review. Radiat Prot Dosim 132:202–211

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Wiltschko R, Wiltschko W (1995) Magnetic Orientation in Animals. Springer, Berlin

    Google Scholar 

Download references


This work has been supported by National Institute of Public Health and the Czech Grant Agency (project no. 102/09/0314). We also would like to thank Radek Theier, Filip Truhlar, Jan Prochazka, Filip Kroupa, and Michael Hapala for their assistance in data acquisition.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to L. Jelinek.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material (504 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Hert, J., Jelinek, L., Pekarek, L. et al. No alignment of cattle along geomagnetic field lines found. J Comp Physiol A 197, 677–682 (2011).

Download citation


  • Magnetoreception
  • Magnetic alignment
  • Cattle in magnetic field
  • Magnetic sense
  • Statistical evaluation