The orientation and navigation of juvenile alligators: evidence of magnetic sensitivity

Journal of Comparative Physiology A



Displaced juvenile alligators, Alligator mississipiensis, were released on land in a 9 m diameter dodecagonal arena to test their ability to orient in the absence of terrestrial landmarks. Navigational ability seemed to improve with age. When displaced along a fairly direct route yearlings (age 7–14 months) compensated for their displacement, moving in the direction from the arena to their home sites. When displaced by a circuitous route, yearlings failed to compensate for their displacement, exhibiting instead simple compass orientation in a direction that would have returned them to water had they been released on land near the site where they were captured. The older juveniles were oriented in a homeward direction under all displacement and test conditions.

The latter animals may have been using geomagnetic map information to select their homeward directions as the errors in their homeward bearings correlated with small deviations in the geomagnetic field's dip angle at the time of the test (1980r s=−0.6047,P=0.0131, all testsr s= −0.4652,P=0.0084). This effect appeared to depend on a very short-term assessment of geomagnetic conditions, as values measured 20 min before or 30 min after the tests began did not correlate with the directions the animals moved. The older juveniles appeared to use magnetically quiet hours on the night of their capture as the baseline from which to measure the geomagnetic deviations that occurred at the time of the arena test. The magnitude of the magnetic effect in the older animals suggests that the geomagnetic information may have been used to perform a ‘map’ step, as small fluctuations in dip angle correlated with much larger deviations in homeward bearings. In addition, the compass-oriented yearlings and the seemingly route-based behavior of the homeward-oriented yearlings did not appear to be influenced by geomagnetic conditions. These findings have many parallels in results obtained from bird orientation studies, providing evidence that navigation may share a common basis in different vertebrate groups.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The orientation and navigation of juvenile alligators: evidence of magnetic sensitivity
Series title Journal of Comparative Physiology A
DOI 10.1007/BF01350218
Volume 154
Issue 5
Year Published 1984
Language English
Publisher Springer Verlag
Publisher location New York, NY
Description 10 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Journal of Comparative Physiology A
First page 649
Last page 658
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details