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The Earth's Magnetic Field and Visual Landmarks Steer Migratory Flight Behavior in the Nocturnal Australian Bogong Moth

  • David Dreyer
  • Barrie Frost
  • Henrik Mouritsen
  • Anja Günther
  • Ken Green
  • Mary Whitehouse
  • Sönke Johnsen
  • Stanley Heinze
  • Eric Warrant
Publishing year: 2018-07-09
Language: English
Pages: 5-2166
Publication/Series: Current Biology
Volume: 28
Issue: 13
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Elsevier

Abstract english

Like many birds [1], numerous species of nocturnal moths undertake spectacular long-distance migrations at night [2]. Each spring, billions of Bogong moths (Agrotis infusa) escape hot conditions in different regions of southeast Australia by making a highly directed migration of over 1,000 km to a limited number of cool caves in the Australian Alps, historically used for aestivating over the summer [3, 4]. How moths determine the direction of inherited migratory trajectories at night and locate their destination (i.e., navigate) is currently unknown [5–7]. Here we show that Bogong moths can sense the Earth's magnetic field and use it in conjunction with visual landmarks to steer migratory flight behavior. By tethering migrating moths in an outdoor flight simulator [8], we found that their flight direction turned predictably when dominant visual landmarks and a natural Earth-strength magnetic field were turned together, but that the moths became disoriented within a few minutes when these cues were set in conflict. We thus conclude that Bogong moths, like nocturnally migrating birds [9], can use a magnetic sense. Our results represent the first reliable demonstration of the use of the Earth's magnetic field to steer flight behavior in a nocturnal migratory insect. The nocturnal Bogong moth performs a highly directed long-distance migration to and from alpine caves in the Australian Alps. Dreyer et al. show that this moth senses the Earth's magnetic field and uses it together with visual landmarks to steer migratory flight behavior. The geomagnetic field might thus be used as a compass during migration.


  • Zoology
  • Agrotis infusa
  • Bogong moth
  • insect vision
  • magnetic sense
  • migration
  • navigation
  • Noctuidae


  • Lund Vision Group
  • ISSN: 0960-9822
Stanley Heinze
E-mail: stanley [dot] heinze [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se


Functional zoology

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