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Some Birds Can See Magnetic Fields

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the looks-dark-to-the-east dept.

Science 238

jamie found a post on the Not Exactly Rocket Science blog on research indicating that some birds can literally see magnetic fields, but only if the vision in their right eye is sharp (abstract at Current Biology). "The magnetic sense of birds was first discovered in robins in 1968, and its details have been teased out ever since. Years of careful research have told us that the ability depends on light and particularly on the right eye and the left half of the brain. The details still aren’t quite clear but, for now, the most likely explanation involves a molecule called cryptochrome. Cryptochrome is found in the light-sensitive cells of a bird’s retina and scientists think that it affects just how sensitive those cells are. ... The upshot is that magnetic fields put up a filter of light or dark patches over what a bird normally sees. These patches change as the bird turns and tilts its head, providing it with a visual compass made out of contrasting shades."

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LOL (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850214)

FP!

23456789 ghj dahjhdf cbdjk cbduisgeu fyuidbsjashd sau hduas duas vuvuzela

Cryptochrome? (1)

butterflysrage (1066514) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850216)

anyone else get the impression that "Cryptochrome" should be the name of some time based encryption system when they first read it?

Re:Cryptochrome? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850238)

Cryptochrome
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, Oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don't take my Cryptochrome away

Re:Cryptochrome? (4, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850310)

It's actually a particular color. Those thick black lines you see in redacted documents? They look like ordinary sharpie; but they are actually special-order cryptochrome markers ("Cryptochrome: plaintext to cyphertext with the stroke of a pen")...

Re:Cryptochrome? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850830)

He He... modded as informative vice funny... I need to quickly start a website selling these special cryptochrome markers for $99 ea...
Obviously there is a market

Re:Cryptochrome? (1)

Reilaos (1544173) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850340)

I thought more of a sort of colour-based encryption system, actually. More on topic, though: What wavelength do the magnetic fields make? Are they power-line esque in frequency (really low?) It makes sense to be able to 'see' moving magnetic fields, since light is just EM waves to begin with, but if the frequency is -that- displaced from the visual spectrum, that's pretty neat.

Re:Cryptochrome? (1)

Hylandr (813770) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850520)

since light is just EM waves to begin with, but if the frequency is -that- displaced from the visual spectrum, that's pretty neat.

It's beautiful to see someone get this right in the wild. It really makes me feel warm and fuzzy. :) There is hope yet!

- Dan.

They give us those nice bright colors (4, Funny)

randomaxe (673239) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850366)

Cryptochrome should totally be the name of a band that does Industrial covers of Paul Simon songs.

Re:Cryptochrome? (3, Informative)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850478)

Chromo = to do with colour

Chrono = to do with time

Re:Cryptochrome? (1)

butterflysrage (1066514) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850752)

yes I know this... but when you read something quickly the first time m's can look like n's.

Re:Cryptochrome? (1)

imakemusic (1164993) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850514)

That or a paint designed for undertakers.

Magneto (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850224)

Is the only one who should give crap about this ...

Big Whup! I can see SOUND and I can hear COLORS !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850256)

Color Me Loud !!
Call me Purple Haze !!

Re:Big Whup! I can see SOUND and I can hear COLORS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850288)

lol i knew a guy whose online handle was purpose haze. so calling him purple haze... would be normal?

sharp vision? (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850258)

some birds can literally see magnetic fields, but only if the vision in their right eye is sharp

Given that some birds (particularly raptors) have insanely sharp distance vision, that's not really that much to ask. Any animal that can spot a rabbit on the ground hundreds of feet away has some amazing vision.

augmented reality (4, Interesting)

Superken7 (893292) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850262)

augmented reality at its best.

Makes me think what other "natural augmented reality senses" are possible, or even already exist in other species.

Re:augmented reality (4, Funny)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850322)

Makes me think what other "natural augmented reality senses" are possible, or even already exist in other species.

  • Cats can see tuna inside the can.
  • Pit bulls can detect and track the locations of up to 300 unguarded neighborhood children simultaneously.
  • I can hear a thread that needs trolling crying out from halfway across the internets.

Re:augmented reality (4, Funny)

CODiNE (27417) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850664)

Most guys can walk into a room with 100 people in it and identify all the hot women in half a second.

Re:augmented reality (4, Funny)

pnewhook (788591) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850914)

Most women can sense desperation the instant a guy walks into a room.

Re:augmented reality (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850744)

  • Cats can see tuna inside the can.

I have been suspicious about these "cat" creatures ever since I saw this site: http://www.catsthatlooklikehitler.com/cgi-bin/seigmiaow.pl [catsthatlo...hitler.com]

And a couple of weeks ago, we had a thread here about cats with bionic legs . . . we are just begging for trouble . . .

Re:augmented reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850822)

Pit Bulls are the nicest, smartest dogs
best with children

labs maul people to death and no one singles them out

dont disseminate lies Rogerborg

Re:augmented reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850860)

I can hear a thread that needs trolling crying out from halfway across the internets.

It's spelled "teh interwebz."

As a slashdot troll you should already know this.

Damned n00bs.

*sigh*

Re:augmented reality (4, Funny)

Chapter80 (926879) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850368)

augmented reality at its best.

Makes me think what other "natural augmented reality senses" are possible, or even already exist in other species.

I'm able to see stupid people at work all the time. Does that count?

Re:augmented reality (4, Insightful)

Laser Dan (707106) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850556)

I'm able to see stupid people at work all the time. Does that count?

No, most people have the ability to see stupid people.

But some people are also able to see the limits of their own ability, a far rarer skill.

Re:augmented reality (3, Funny)

m.ducharme (1082683) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850628)

In other words, seeing stupid people in the mirror.

Re:augmented reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850594)

So, you have a mirror at your desk?

Re:augmented reality (1)

Guppy (12314) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850792)

I'm able to see stupid people at work all the time. Does that count?

"I see Dumb People... they're everywhere. They walk around like everyone else. They don't even know they're dumb."

Re:augmented reality (3, Insightful)

KillaBeave (1037250) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850420)

I think technically it's not augmented reality, but rather seeing more of reality.

Re:augmented reality (1)

drewhk (1744562) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850554)

No, the OP is right, this is augmented reality, because the magnetic field information is superimposed over the vision of the bird's right eye. If it closes it's eyes, no magnetic information is perceived.

Re:augmented reality (5, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850844)

No, the OP is right, this is augmented reality, because the magnetic field information is superimposed over the vision of the bird's right eye. If it closes it's eyes, no magnetic information is perceived.

But you're missing the fact that, from the bird's perspective, it's simply reality. It's not augmented, it's part of it.

If you and I strap on a device which gives us the same vision as a bird that can see magnetic fields, that is augmented reality. If the bird closes its right eye and then re-opens is, that is not augmented reality, that's blinking. That is the natural vision of the bird.

Augmented reality means enhanced with technology, not just better than yours. The bird has a reality which sees more than we do, but it is not, strictly speaking, augmented. Cooler maybe, but not augmented. For the same reason that relative to a color blind person, I don't have augmented vision -- I have perfectly 'standard' vision, mine just happens to see more than his.

Now, show me a bird wearing night-vision goggles, and I'll cede the point of it being augmented reality. In the mean time, you're arguing a semantic difference that isn't valid.

Re:augmented reality (1)

butterflysrage (1066514) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850888)

we have sterioscopic vision, most birds dont, is that augmented reality too?

Re:augmented reality (1)

pnewhook (788591) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850926)

No it not augmented. Just like a colour blind person doesn't think that a person with normal vision is perceiving augmented reality. The information is there we just cannot see it.

Re:augmented reality (4, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850450)

Given that the number of things that you can sense without breaking the known laws of physics is limited, we have reasonably informed basis for speculation, plus a lot of field data:

Electromagnetic radiation: everything from pretty longwave IR to UV is well documented(IR in certain snake's heat-sensor pits, UV in some insects, "visible light" is obvious enough) There are certain radiotrophic fungi [wikipedia.org] , which can perform a process analogous to photosynthesis; but with gamma radiation. This isn't a directly sensory function; but it does imply that there is a biologically produce-able molecule, in the wild, that could serve as the basis of a gamma-ray vision system(if not, perhaps, a very fast one) The unknown(at least for me) is radio waves. I've never heard of anything using them; but organisms with conductive structures linked to their nervous systems are potential suspects....

Magnetic fields: Confirmed in birds and some insects; both as a 'compass-like' directional sense, and as a visual signal. And, since electricity and magnetism are related, anything with reasonably high-resolution magnetic sensors can detect electrical currents, as well.

Sound waves: Confirmed, obviously enough, across a pretty wide frequency band in all sorts of species, both as a conventional 'hearing' sense, and for detection and ranging.

Chemicals: Anything with a sense of smell is a pretty sensitive chemical detector, some better than others. Even bacteria can follow chemical gradients, and animals with sophisticated olfactory systems can detect tens or hundred of thousands of chemicals, and at fairly low concentrations...

Electrical currents: Sharks, possibly among others, can sense the electrical impulses that make your muscles move at distances long enough to make this a useful hunting tool. Don't know if anyone else has picked up this trick...

Can anyone think of other physical phenomena that may or may not have biological sensors capable of detecting it, and any known cases?

Re:augmented reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850506)

Oh, forgot this one: Polarized light/angle of polarization can be detected by a number of aquatic species...

Re:augmented reality (2, Interesting)

Garble Snarky (715674) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850724)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephantnose [wikipedia.org] - this fish can generate and sense electrical impulses. This seems to be a unique ability.

Re:augmented reality (2, Funny)

mrsurb (1484303) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850800)

Electrical currents: Sharks, possibly among others, can sense the electrical impulses that make your muscles move at distances long enough to make this a useful hunting tool. Don't know if anyone else has picked up this trick...

The platypus also has this. It's called electro-reception.

Can anyone think of other physical phenomena that may or may not have biological sensors capable of detecting it, and any known cases?

Don't know of any biological sense to detect radiation (alpha, beta, gamma). I also know that my wife lacks the sense for detecting my humour.

Re:augmented reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850558)

A visual phenomenon which exist in humans is Synesthesia [wikipedia.org] .

In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme, color synesthesia or color-graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored, while in ordinal linguistic personification, numbers, days of the week and months of the year evoke personalities.

Also, I experience an uncanny ability to subconsciously spot typos and errors in documents. We ran some experiments where a co-worker stood ten feet away from me with a stack of ten twelve-point font single-spaced pages, and held each one up for 2 seconds. Although I couldn't name the errors, I could tell exactly where the typos were on each page (without reading the document). I had 100% accuracy, if you count things like "the typo was on the 3rd line on the 2nd page, toward the right" and "mid-way down, about 30% across". Needless to say, it makes reading YouTube comments a bitch (and also provides me a lot of grief when I send out an email with a typo in it; I am VERY far from perfect, and anxiously await the grammar Nazis attacking this post!)

Then there's this other phenomenon. [sensagent.com]

snakes see heat through their noses (-1, Offtopic)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850566)

electric eels feel electric currents

bees see in ultraviolet

but most impressively, your mom knows what my penis tastes like

Re:augmented reality (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850598)

And still makes me wonder what else is involved in their navigation given the steady change in magnetic declination over time.

Re:augmented reality (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850762)

Its not augmented reality, its just reality to the birds.

Re:augmented reality (1)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850770)

In ten years, when we all have bionic eyes, they can be set to detect arbitrary bands of the EM spectrum (or anything that can image, like sonar/ultrasound, Geiger counters, etc.), and you'll be able to switch between various options at will.

Tech version? (4, Interesting)

x_IamSpartacus_x (1232932) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850284)

I'd love to see a Tech version of this. I may be completely ignorant and it may already exist but it seems like, since we now know the science of how to see magnetic fields, we could develop an artificial "eye" so to speak, that could do this. It would be neat to look at power lines or just browse the city and see the magnetic fields cast off by different infrastructure.

Re:Tech version? (1)

doramjan (766519) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850462)

Hmm, sounds like something I've seen before. Maybe it can be in the shape of a hair clip and can be used for people born blind.

Re:Tech version? (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850474)

Well, thats not so far away, it MIGHT even already be possible.

I know I've seen a few Hubble pictures, and they take the ultraviolet and Gamma rays that we generally can't see and put them into the visible spectrum to help show exactly whats going on in the random nebulas and stars that they find. Kind of like how night vision goggles usually just slide the infrared spectrum into light spectrum, (though I've never understood why green).

Magnetic fields are a little different than other parts of the EM spectrum though - but I know I've seen "heat maps" based on the magnetic poles on the Earth, and so however that is determined seems like it could easily be done with a set of goggles. Perhaps the demand for such a product is just too low?

Re:Tech version? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850868)

Kind of like how night vision goggles usually just slide the infrared spectrum into light spectrum, (though I've never understood why green).

It is widely believed green puts least strain on our eyes (that's why early computer terminals had green screens) and when those things are used, they are used for prolonged periods of time.

Night vision goggles do not "just slide the infrared spectrum into light spectrum" because visible light spectrum is much, much narrower then IR part of spectrum. They just detect image intensity in whichever part of spectrum they work and convert it into monochrome (black&green) image. Commonly used (military) night vision goggles don't even work in infrared, they just "intensify image" in visible light spectrum, using minuscule ambient light which is always present (if it is good enough for owls and cats ...). Near IR illumination (using LEDs used in TV remotes, visible by cameras, but not with naked eyes) can help in closed quarters where there isn't any natural source of light, but using it in the field would be dangerous. Thermal vision is surely a bonus, but it is bulky and demands forced cooling of the detector (which means it has to radiate heat, too, revealing its position to any other heat seekers around) so it is fundamentally hard (as well as impractical and costly) to put that into head-mounted goggles. That's why it usually gets mounted on larger gear, like planes, choppers, tanks, etc.

Re:Tech version? (1)

Zerth (26112) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850538)

You wouldn't see the magnetic fields surrounding an object in all directions, you'd only see those that intersected with your head.

You probably wouldn't even be able to tell what object was emitting them without moving around.

Re:Tech version? (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850590)

Isn't it as simple as sending a wave of charged particles out, and seeing what gets abnormally deflected, like Radar?

(not that the sending or tracking of what comes back is a trivial task, but I think this would work in theory for looking at magnetic objects).

Re:Tech version? (1)

alexhs (877055) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850638)

Well there definitely is a low-tech version [wikipedia.org] ;)

Re:Tech version? (4, Informative)

david.given (6740) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850650)

You may be interested in Haidinger's Brush [polarization.com] : it's basically an undocumented feature of the human eye that allows you, with practice, to see polarised light. It works due to one of the pigments in the eye being sensitive to polarised light (they think), producing a distinctive pattern when you observe strongly polarised light. By observing this pattern you can determine the direction of polarisation.

Re:Tech version? (1)

arc86 (1815912) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850812)

Power lines are 60 Hz AC here in the US, so i imagine your brain (and robins' brains) would just see the average of the magnetic field, which would be zero. I think you're stuck to just seeing the DC magnetic fields.

edyong209@googlemail.co.uk (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850290)

Ed Yong is an award-winning British science writer. Not Exactly Rocket Science is his attempt to talk about the awe-inspiring, beautiful and quirky world of science to as many people as possible. He finds talking about himself in the third person strange and unsettling.

Some interviews with me

Some awards that I've won

Who my readers are

A complete list of posts from this blog

Contact me on edyong209@googlemail.co.uk

Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

molo (94384) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850300)

Maybe some biologists can answer this.. but why haven't humans or other mammalian species evolved to see/detect/transmit infrared or microwave radio? It seems that long neurons could act as conductor antennas. No evolutionary advantage? Just the night sensing possibilities alone seem worthwhile.

-molo

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850328)

Some humans seem to be able to see a little further into UV, but nothing like chickens or certain insects.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850464)

I thought that was IR, but I suppose just due to the irregularity and imprecision of what exactly constitutes the visible spectrum, it wouldn't be constrained to one side. I noticed years ago that in the dark I'd see these clouds which would mysteriously take the form of items in the room. The color would be this unnatural white purple or golden green. Eventually I noticed that it could be used to see even when there was no meaningful difference of color in the items.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (4, Interesting)

mister_playboy (1474163) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850522)

Specifically, females with a 4th set of cones [post-gazette.com] .

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (3, Funny)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850760)

Specifically, females with a 4th set of cones.

I remember the female from Total Recall with the 3rd cone, but I never knew there were women with four sets(!). That's eight, right?
Who cares about UV sight?

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

MadKeithV (102058) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850788)

Females, sets of cones...
4 of them?

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

Zerth (26112) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850644)

The lens in the human eye blocks UV. People who have had their lenses removed have reported being able to detect UV, but it looks a lot like purple.

Also, the human eye can see a teensy bit of near infrared, depending on where you put the distinction between red and IR. However, it requires goggles that only passes IR and a really bright IR source(sunny day or a IR flood lamp).

Spy vs Spy (5, Interesting)

westlake (615356) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850710)

Some humans seem to be able to see a little further into UV, but nothing like chickens or certain insects.

In WWII the OSS recruited elderly volunteers with cataracts who could see into the UV range. They were posted as coast watchers for communication with submarines and landing parties.

One of the best reads around for the real world of spy tech is Stanley Lovell's Of Spies and Stratagems. Lovell was the OSS "Moriarty" - a later generation would see him "Q," and no less an enthusiastic, inventive and deadly prankster.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850354)

Maybe some biologists can answer this.. but why haven't humans or other mammalian species evolved to see/detect/transmit infrared or microwave radio? It seems that long neurons could act as conductor antennas. No evolutionary advantage? Just the night sensing possibilities alone seem worthwhile.

-molo

Because the infrared or microwaves would cook our neurons, silly!

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

morphotomy (1655417) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850372)

Seeing in IR wouldn't do much for us to see at night unless there was an IR source nearby.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

molo (94384) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850402)

Think far infrared (blackbody radiation), not near infrared.

-molo

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

frozentier (1542099) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850396)

We don't know that other mammals CAN'T do this, but as for humans, we haven't evolved to process infrared or microwaves for the same reason we haven't grown gills for breathing underwater: It's not necessary to the species.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850398)

Put it simple would it allow you to have more sex (implies all other things that allow you to have it, like being successful in gathering food)? If yes then you can be assured that in the long run we as a species will get it.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

butterflysrage (1066514) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850426)

well, evolution only favors a trait if it lets you have more babies... as humans have been diurnal pretty much from the get-go, the advantage of great night vision is lessened because we are generally asleep at that time. As for mirowave... not a lot of that makes it down to the surface of the earth, things would be quite dark at mw wavelengths.

heck, the ability to see blue is fairly recient (in evolutionary terms) whereas we have seen green and red a lot longer. This is why blue things tend to catch the eye more, and why things will not appear as bright when lit by mono-chrome blue light (try walking arounda room with a blue LED flashlight, right PITA that)

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

samkass (174571) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850574)

Besides, in order for evolution to change a trait in a species, it has to occur in someone naturally through random mutation, viral gene swaps, new enzymes activating a new combination of genes, etc. Without genetic engineering, you might have to wait millions of years for that event, at which point humans might not even exist any longer.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

addsalt (985163) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850648)

well, evolution only favors a trait if it lets you have more babies... as humans have been diurnal pretty much from the get-go, the advantage of great night vision is lessened because we are generally asleep at that time

it also would favor any trait that keeps you alive long enough to have more babies - say by being able to see predators at night.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

butterflysrage (1066514) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850722)

and considering that we can't see IR we can assume (with all that intails) that either the mutation never happened in over 10,000 years, or that if it did it did not provide enough of an advantage to become dominant.

Humans have had other means of dealing with predators... fire being the most obvious, shelters, partially/domesticated dogs.

and besides, where are you thinking one would PUT these IR sensing rods/cones? The retina is already kinda crowded with just the daytime colour vision cells. Crowding them out to see at night (when most of us are asleep) will cut into our daytime resolution, which would make it harder to hunt/gather/evade daytime preditors.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (4, Interesting)

RivenAleem (1590553) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850448)

Why would you need night vision if you are able to survive the day?

Animals with great night vision tend to have it because it is not safe for them to be out and about during the day when the majority of predators are up and about. Consequently a number of predators themselves developed night vision (they didn't develop it, just that predators with night vision were able to find a niche, see below). I'm assuming you mean to ask why humans didn't evolve the abilities, the answer is simple: we are well capable of being active throughout the day, and decide instead to rest at night.

Even though it is possible to push a human's visible spectrum into the IR range, with a long treatment of Vitamin A (http://www.edkeyes.org/blog/050825.html), there is no point in doing so, as it's not needed as a survival tool.

The same goes for microwave radio. We do not need it to be superior to all other animals on the planet, so there has never been a reason for why it would develop.

You have to remember that evolution is the process whereby an animal mutates randomly and a trait appears, if that animal survives to reproduce (not killed off by something) then that trait is passed on to a new generation. If that mutation proves negative to survival, chances are the animal dies and does not get to pass on that trait to next generation.

You can't simply expect a need for night vision to present itself, and in response the body evolves in order to comply with that need.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

AdmiralXyz (1378985) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850470)

Maybe some biologists can answer this.. but why haven't humans or other mammalian species evolved to see/detect/transmit infrared or microwave radio? It seems that long neurons could act as conductor antennas. No evolutionary advantage? Just the night sensing possibilities alone seem worthwhile.

-molo

That's pretty much it. The reason we've evolved to be able to see the frequencies we can see is that those are the most useful. For example, at an extreme end, if your eyes could only see gamma radiation, everything would be completely black all the time, unless you were right next to some radioactive material. Microwaves too would be pretty useless from an evolutionary standpoint: there are basically no sources of naturally occurring microwaves on earth; again, if you could only see in microwaves, you'd be in darkness (at least, before humans started making artificial ones). Keep in mind also that the atmosphere blocks huge swathes of the EM spectrum, and so evolution would necessarily only produce creatures able to see the remaining parts.

Near infrared and UV would seem more useful (and some animals can see in those regions), but remember that every enhancement to your capabilities requires more energy and biological complexity, and so puts you at an evolutionary disadvantage unless your extra capability makes up for it. Evidently, for humans, the benefit of seeing IF and UV didn't make up for the cost, so we can't do it.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

mikael (484) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850548)

We can see infra-red - if you put an infra-red filter (Hoya) over your eyes, and let them adjust in a dark room, you will be able to see around in infra-red. But that frequency of light gets washed out by the stronger blue-green-yellow light from the sky, grass and sea. Infra-red is only useful if you are hunting in caves or at dusk/dawn like a snake.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850560)

The reason we call it "infrared" is because we can't see it. If we could see it, we would just consider it part of the visible spectrum, and you'd be asking why we can't see radio waves.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

cowscows (103644) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850584)

As others have mentioned, our sight is optimized towards daylight hours, because that's when humans are generally active. And while adding some cool night vision capabilities could certainly be useful in some cases, there's only so much room in the eyeball to shove more sensory cells in, and so any changes to allow infrared detection would likely come at the expense of reduced capabilities in the daytime. In the course of our evolution, that trade-off didn't work out.

Evolution is a series of biological compromises. With every advantage comes certain disadvantages. For an organism to gain new biological capabilities it must either drop/reduce some other capability or have its food/energy requirements increase. Ain't nothin' free in this world.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850606)

It's not impossible that we are actually able to sense some other frequencies of light with other organs. A mundane example is the ability to sense strong IR sources with your skin :)

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850614)

Probably because it's an evolutionary deadend to go tumbling around the night with halfassed night vision. You're very unlikely to catch something, very likely to become pray or simply injure yourself. Those who survived were probably those who decided it's dark as fuck, let's return to base and live to fight another day. It's not like we're terribly poor in extreme low light, if you go camping in a remote area with no fire we see well enough for close quarter combat. And maybe that comes with a penalty for our day vision which is the tipping point between survival and starvation, it doesn't take much of an evolutionary pressure to negate the benefits.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

izomiac (815208) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850616)

Neurons do have wire effects, but nothing like metal, so I don't think you could use them as an antenna. Plus you'd be nowhere even close to the threshold voltage of fast sodium channels, so they'd never fire. If that weren't the case a simple thunderstorm would cause seizures and probably death.

As for why we can't see infrared like a pit viper, it wouldn't really help that much. We don't hunt at night, and our greatest natural threats are cold blooded. Hunter-gatherers only hunted and gathered for ~15 - 25 hours per week, so we kinda got to be too efficient, and had plenty of free time. Hence why language and culture were developed.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850646)

One could say that Wings could also be an evolutionary advantage, or claws, or thicker skin.

I think you are a little confused on how evolution really works. It's not a "This would be advantageous, lets slowly change" kind of thing. It's not more than a "Our environment requires this to survive" sort of thing. It's more like "My species will die if we do not evolve. Lets hope my babies are different. Roll 2 D20s"

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

electron sponge (1758814) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850654)

We have evolved to do these very things, in a way - our brains have developed the ability to engineer machines to translate these spectra into ones we can use. Sure it's not as cool as being a real life member of the X-Men but, hey, it's still pretty neat.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

Clueless Moron (548336) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850924)

For IR, it's because we're warm blooded. If our eyes could detect far-IR (like a FLIR camera), it would see nothing but a white fog since the eye is already at that temperature.

Snakes can sense far-IR because they are cold blooded. Even then, they don't do it that well because the temperature difference between their sensors (which are in the nose) and a mammal isn't that much.

As for near-IR, it's just not useful. It makes for pretty photography effects, but it doesn't help you at night or day.

Re:Why haven't we evolved to see IR or microwave? (1)

Landak (798221) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850954)

Evolution doesn't particularly care if something is good, just if it is "good enough". We've evolved to the great humbling oafs that we are now throughout a variety of intermediate stages -- but all of them have something in common: we've been on earth, and, it is believed, underwater. Let me just show you two graphs; one of the measured absorption coefficient of water [umd.edu] (beware the axes: it's a semi-logarithmic plot), and, secondly, the absorption spectrum of the atmosphere [helpsavetheclimate.com] . If you look at one and then the other, you'll see that the only window where both materials aren't as clear as the reason for Jar Jar Blink's conception is roughly the range ~300-~1000nm. This corresponds to what we dub "the visible spectrum" and is the part of the EM spectrum where the vast majority of life on earth is either pigmented or sees -- where "the sun is brightest", as most of the light from the sky is reaching the environment in which organisms live (aquatic or not). It also roughly corresponds with the peak of the Sun's blackbody spectrum. When you consider that we can measure light from all over the universe coming to us in wavelengths ranging from the tens of metres to less than a tenth of a fermi [femtometer], you have to concede that we really are a product of our environment. Oh -- and IANAL, IANABiologist, but I am a biophysicist :-).

Silly, inferior mammals (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850424)

So, not only can birds see [wikipedia.org] a broader range of colours (they can see ultraviolet), a more detailed spectrum than we can (e.g., blue jays can tell the difference between "yellow" from a red-green mixture and "pure" yellow) thanks to having 4 or 5 types of colour-sensitive cells in their retinas (humans and other primates have 3), and having higher density of light-sensitive cells (=higher resolution), but they can also see magnetic fields?

I feel so cheated by evolution.

Re:Silly, inferior mammals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850454)

And to top it all off, birds taste better. Talk about getting the short end of the stick!

Re:Silly, inferior mammals (1)

drewhk (1744562) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850632)

"And to top it all off, birds taste better."

Yes! Yummy birds...

Re:Silly, inferior mammals (1)

Exitar (809068) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850564)

And to make you feel worse, they even poo on your head.

Feynman was able to see equations in colors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850456)

And if that doesn't tell you some brains are different from others, within what
is apparently the same species ( maybe Feynman was an alien in disguise ? )
then nothing will.

Parrots (1)

whitedsepdivine (1491991) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850492)

Did you know some birds have to eyelids. My parrot, even if he closes both of them, I can still see he pupil behind his lids.

Additionally, he likes to keep his right eye closed alot of the time. I thought he might have a problem with it. The doctor said it was normal.

Re:Parrots (1)

JeanBaptiste (537955) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850908)

my cats breath smells like cat food

I would expect a more... (1)

smitty777 (1612557) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850500)

..encompassing article from /.

Just wanted to needle the editors a bit.

Reminds me of the Mistborn books (1)

chrisl456 (699707) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850546)

This sounds somewhat like what Brandon Sanderson described in his Mistborn books. If you were "mistborn", you could (after "burning" certain metals) see blue lines extending from yourself to metal objects around you, which you could then pull or push away from you.

Overall, they were pretty good books. I'd recommended them.

You entered a normal man! (1)

karlandtanya (601084) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850570)

You leave blind--blind-- BLIND.

I concur (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850578)

My wife saw Magnetic Fields last year, they were great

News? (1)

Gogogoch (663730) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850634)

This story is only about 2 years old - geez.

Hack a bird (1)

MHz-Man (1066086) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850684)

Challenge - Hack a bird: create large magnetic field with proper orientation to temporarily blind it!

The real important question: (1)

Irick (1842362) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850692)

In a fight between Quailman and Magneto, who would win?

In other news, Slashdot editors ... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32850772)

... can smell a cock they'd like to suck a mile away.

Those lucky gits (1)

Nick Number (447026) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850810)

I would love to see Stephin Merritt perform live.

EM pollution (2, Interesting)

tee-rav (1029032) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850870)

If the temporal resolution of the cytochrome signal matches that of "normal" vision, birds with this ability can likely see individual oscillations of EM fields up to ~50Hz. What do faster-oscillating fields look like to such a bird? Do they interfere with the bird's normal vision? Strobe lights come to mind as an analogue.

Re:EM pollution (1)

imgod2u (812837) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850960)

They may very well alias into the bird's vision range. But I imagine that with all the EM going around, their visual processing center most likely filters that out.

OK, I should probably call Randi (4, Interesting)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850934)

As a child, I found that if I were to walk under/near certain transformers, I started to see black waves at the very edge of my vision. I couldn't really describe it as they tended to be fairly quick, and explaining to somone just what waves of black at the edge of your vision would look like was/is difficult.

I grew up near a steel mill, and their furnaces were electric, and on a hill near where I lived there was this MASSIVE collection of electrical equipment (Transformers, relays, etc). If I were to walk along the outer perimiter of this area, I would see those waves again.

I've noticed this my entire life, and it happens rarely, but is always associated with electrical equipment. I also got the same 'waves' when I accidentally grabbed a makeshift fishing worm extractor (essentially an AC cord attached to a long metal rod you stick in the ground) I DEFINITELY saw the waves in my vision then (and nearly was electrocuted).

Now, is this something that other people have in the presence of very large em fields? Or did I stick a nail up my nose when I was a toddler and forgot about it?

It's not magic in any case, so I don't think I could go for Randi's offer right?

Why do birds suddenly appear? (1)

imgod2u (812837) | more than 4 years ago | (#32850936)

Every time you are near?
Just like me, they long to be
inducted to you.

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