A group of Danish and German scientists recently completed a massive study investigating the eyes of robins. In their report, study authors claim to have found novel structures that allow these birds to travel long distances during migration season.
In total, researchers poured over 20,000 hours of data recorded on their computers. Most of this research was completed at University of Southern Denmark.
The bird researchers observed the European robin in this study. Specifically, investigators wanted to understand what proteins in these birds' eyes help them travel such long distances during their migration.
Through their extensive research, scientists have now confirmed that these birds are able to detect magnetic energy in their eyes that helps them travel. Researchers also know that this "magnetic compass" is light sensitive.
As of today, the professors can't pinpoint the magnetoreceptor that helps these birds detect magnetic frequencies. Study authors suggested that the protein called Cry4 might be responsible, but further testing is needed to confirm this hypothesis.
Cry4 is officially a cryptochrome that often helps regulate circadian rhythms. In their study, scientists found that the Cry4 was more pronounced during the European robin's migration period.
The European robin is officially classified under the Latin name Erithacus rubecula and is well known for its distinctive orange breast. In addition to Europe, this robin can be spotted in parts of Africa, especially during their migration season.
Henrik Mouritsen, who teaches at the Research Centre for Neurosensory Sciences in Germany's University of Oldenburg, was the lead author of this study. A few other key researchers include Drs. Ilia A. Solov'yov and Emil Sjulstok, both of whom teach at the University of Southern Denmark's Department of Physics, Chemistry, and Pharmacy.
Anyone who's interested can read more about Dr. Mouritsen's research in the latest edition of Current Biology. You can find this article under the title, "Double-Cone Localization and Seasonal Expression Pattern Suggest a Role in Magnetoreception for European Robin Cryptochrome 4."