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Spontaneous magnetic orientation in larval Drosophila shares properties with learned magnetic compass responses in adult flies and mice

  • Michael S. Painter
  • David H. Dommer
  • William W. Altizer
  • Rachel Muheim
  • John B. Phillips
Publishing year: 2013
Language: English
Pages: 1307-1316
Publication/Series: Journal of Experimental Biology
Volume: 216
Issue: 7
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: The Company of Biologists Ltd

Abstract english

We provide evidence for spontaneous quadramodal magnetic orientation in a larval insect. Second instar Berlin, Canton-S and Oregon-R x Canton-S strains of Drosophila melanogaster exhibited quadramodal orientation with clusters of bearings along the four anti-cardinal compass directions (i.e. 45, 135, 225 and 315 deg). In double-blind experiments, Canton-S Drosophila larvae also exhibited quadramodal orientation in the presence of an earth-strength magnetic field, while this response was abolished when the horizontal component of the magnetic field was cancelled, indicating that the quadramodal behavior is dependent on magnetic cues, and that the spontaneous alignment response may reflect properties of the underlying magnetoreception mechanism. In addition, a re-analysis of data from studies of learned magnetic compass orientation by adult Drosophila melanogaster and C57BL/6 mice revealed patterns of response similar to those exhibited by larval flies, suggesting that a common magnetoreception mechanism may underlie these behaviors. Therefore, characterizing the mechanism(s) of magnetoreception in flies may hold the key to understanding the magnetic sense in a wide array of terrestrial organisms.


  • Zoology
  • alignment
  • quadramodal
  • light dependent
  • magnetite
  • magnetoreception
  • orientation


  • ISSN: 1477-9145
Rachel Muheim
E-mail: rachel [dot] muheim [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se


Functional zoology

+46 46 222 31 93



Centre for Animal Movement Research
Evolutionary Ecology, Department of Biology
Ecology building S-223 62 Lund Sweden