Detection of Static Magnetic Fields by the Darkling Beetle (Tenebrio molitor)

01 January 2023 → 31 December 2026
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Natural sciences
    • Behavioural biology
    • Invertebrate biology
  • Engineering and technology
    • Antennas and propagation
    • Electromagnetism and antenna technology
    • Modelling not elsewhere classified
electromagnetic fields Tenebrio Molitor magnetoreception
Project description

Several animals can sense magnetic fields and use them for spatial orientation. Intriguingly, the exact mechanisms underlying this magneto-sensory modality remain unknown. We aim to study radiofrequency (RF) disturbance of magnetic orientation of the darkling beetle (Tenebrio molitor) in order to unravel the nature of this sensory mechanism. We choose this model because protocols for behavioral experiments testing its geomagnetic orientation have been well established. To achieve this endeavor, we will drastically improve our understanding of the relationship between RF stimulus delivery and disturbance of animals’ magnetic orientation, by being the first to use numerical solutions of Maxwell’s equations to determine electromagnetic field distributions in this context. This computational approach to electromagnetics has led to major advances in a wide range of fields, yet it has never been applied in the field of magnetoreception. This project has two main aims: (1) To develop and validate realistic numerical models of beetles using imaging techniques and measurements of their dielectric properties. (2) To unravel the mechanism of the magnetic sensor(s) in the beetles, by designing, executing and analyzing a geomagnetic orientation experiment that is disrupted by a controlled RF exposure. This project will employ a systematic, interdisciplinary approach, enabling a major step forward in our understanding of how electromagnetic fields interact with and affect living organisms.