Migratory Eels Use Magnetoreception

In laboratory experiments that simulated oceanic conditions, the fish responded to magnetic fields, a sensory input that may aid migration.

Apr 14, 2017
Kerry Grens

WIKIMEDIA, DMITRIY KONSTANINOVThe long journeys of European eels (Anguilla anguilla) from the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean to European rivers and streams have baffled scientists for more than a century. But the eels may be helped along their winding trajectories by employing an uncommon sense: magnetoreception.

In Current Biology on Thursday (April 13), researchers reported that juvenile eels use magnetic fields to guide the direction they’re heading. “The eels oriented in a manner that would increase their entrainment into the Gulf Stream system,” Lewis Naisbett-Jones, who led the study while he was a student at Aberystwyth University in the U.K., told NPR.

Naisbett-Jones collected young A. anguilla and put them in a tank. He then subjected the fish to various magnetic fields and watched which way they swam. A magnetic field simulating what the animals would experience in the Sargasso Sea led the fish southwestward, while a magnetic field mimicking the northwest Atlantic caused them to head northeastward. In both situations, the responses would have aimed the fish toward the Gulf Stream, had they been in the wild.

“This study adds to the growing body of evidence that the magnetic sense may be an important component of fishes that make long migrations in the ocean,” Michael Miller, an eel biologist at Nihon University in Fujisawa, Japan, told Science.

Last year, a different group of researchers made another insight into eel migration: they tagged the slippery adults with electronic data loggers and found—contrary to the century-old belief that eels make it from European freshwater to spawning grounds in the Sargasso Sea in a single season—some individuals linger out at sea for a year.

“We can say that it’s highly unlikely that a significant number of the eels leaving Europe will actually make it down to the Sargasso Sea ready for the coming spawning,” Kim Aarestrup, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Aquatic Resources in Denmark and one of the authors of the study, told The Scientist several months ago. “Which then leads us to the conclusion that they’re probably part of the next spawning, which happens 12 months later.”

See “Researchers Track Eels on Their Cross-Atlantic Migration

Naisbett-Jones’s study did not meet with universal enthusiasm. As Gizmodo reported, the paper was first turned down by Nature Communications. “I identified the major weaknesses of their study such as the use of the wrong life-stage: using 2 year old eels called juveniles [or “glass eels”] and assuming they would behave as newly hatched larvae,” Caroline Durif, a senior research scientist at the Institute of Marine Research in Norway who reviewed the paper for Nature Communications, told Gizmodo. “Compared to larvae, the glass eels have undergone a metamorphosis and have a totally different sensory system.” 

November 2018

Intelligent Science

Wrapping our heads around human smarts


Sponsored Product Updates

Complete Pathology Solutions: Make Every Minute Count

Complete Pathology Solutions: Make Every Minute Count

From sample collection and handling, to fixation and processing, tissue staining, and covering all your IHC and water purification needs—you can have confidence in the quality of your results with MilliporeSigma's one-stop pathology solution.

Preparing Cell Or Tissue Lysates For ELISA Kits

Preparing Cell Or Tissue Lysates For ELISA Kits

RayBiotech manufactures over 2,000 high fully validated, GMP-compliant ELISA kits. In this blog post we explain how to prepare cell or tissue lysates for ELISA Kits.

Norgen Biotek Achieves Illumina Propel Certification as a Service Provider for Next Generation Sequencing

Norgen Biotek Achieves Illumina Propel Certification as a Service Provider for Next Generation Sequencing

Norgen Biotek Corp., an innovative privately held Canadian biotechnology company focusing primarily on nucleic acid and protein stabilization and purification, as well as providing high quality services to the scientific community, today announced that it has become Propel-Certified through Illumina as a Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) service provider.

Slice® Safety Cutters for Lab Work

Slice® Safety Cutters for Lab Work

Slice cutting tools—which feature our patent-pending safety blades—meet many lab-specific requirements. Our scalpels and craft knives are well suited for delicate work, and our utility knives are good for general use.