Behavioral results obtained from the eastern red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) led to the suggestion of a hybrid homing system involving inputs from both a light-dependent and a non-light-dependent mechanism. To evaluate the possible role of a receptor based on biogenic magnetite in this animal, we performed magnetometry experiments on a set of newts previously used in behavioral assays. The natural remanent magnetization (NRM) carried by these newts was strong enough to be measured easily using a direct-current-biased superconducting quantum interference device functioning as a moment magnetometer. Isothermal remanent magnetizations were two orders of magnitude higher than the NRM, suggesting that ferromagnetic material consistent with magnetite is present in the body of the newt. The NRM has no preferential orientation among the animals when analyzed relative to their body axis, and the demagnetization data show that, overall, the magnetic material grains are not aligned parallel to each other within each newt. Although the precise localization of the particles was not possible, the data indicate that magnetite is not clustered in a limited area. A quantity of single-domain magnetic material is present which would be adequate for use in either a magnetic intensity or direction receptor. Our data, when combined with the functional properties of homing, suggest a link between this behavioral response and the presence of ferromagnetic material, raising the possibility that magnetite is involved at least in the map component of homing of the eastern red-spotted newt.
Light-dependent models of magnetoreception have been proposed which involve an interaction between the magnetic field and either magnetite particles located within a photoreceptor or excited states of photopigment molecules. Consistent with a photoreceptor-based magnetic compass mechanism, magnetic orientation responses in salamanders, flies and birds have been shown to be affected by the wavelength of light. In birds and flies, it is unclear whether the effects of light on magnetic orientation are due to a direct effect on a magnetoreception system or to a nonspecific (e.g. motivational) effect of light on orientation behavior. Evidence from shoreward-orienting salamanders, however, demonstrates that salamanders perceive a 90 degrees counterclockwise shift in the direction of the magnetic field under long-wavelength (>=500 nm) light. A simple physiological model based on the antagonistic interaction between two magnetically sensitive spectral mechanisms suggests one possible way in which the wavelength-dependent effects of light on the salamander's magnetic compass response might arise. Assuming that the wavelength-dependent characteristics of the avian magnetic response can be attributed to an underlying magnetoreception system, we discuss several hypotheses attempting to resolve the differences observed in the wavelength-dependent effects of light on magnetic orientation in birds and salamanders. By considering the evidence in the context of photoreceptor- and non-photoreceptor-based mechanisms for magnetoreception, we hope to encourage future studies designed to distinguish between alternative hypotheses concerning the influence of light on magnetoreception.