Humans love their "gadgets." Things like radar guns, magnetic compasses, and infrared detectors. These man-made items allow humans to live beyond their five basic senses. But did you know that these "gadgets" are far from new, or even original? Yep. Evolution has equipped some animals with these same gadgets millions of years before humans had even evolved!
1. Echolocation. Toothed whales (a family of marine mammals that include dolphins), bats, some ground/tree dwelling shrews use echolocation to find their way around. High-frequency sound impulses are emitted by these animals and are sound very high-pitched to human ears or are completely inaudible to them. These animals then detect the echoes produced by those sounds. Special ear and brain adaptions enable the animals to to "draw" a three-dimensional image of their surroundings! Bats, for example, have very large ear flaps that gather and direct the sound to their thin, ultra-sensitive eardrums.
2. Infrared and ultraviolet vision. Rattlesnakes and other pit vipers (a sub-family of venomous vipers from Eurasia and the Americas) use their eyes to see during the day, like everybody else, But come darkness, these special reptiles use infrared sensory organs to detect and hunt their warm-blooded prey that would otherwise be invisible to them. These infrared "eyes" are cup-like structures that form "crude images as infrared radiation hits a heat-sensitive retina." Some animals, including the hedgehog, shrimp, and even eagles, can see into the lower reaches of the ultraviolet spectrum. Meanwhile, you humans are unable to see either infrared or ultraviolet light....at least without help.
3. Electric sense. The common and widespread electric fields that animals produce often feature in animal senses. Electric eels and some rays are the two that immediately come to mind. These guys have modified muscle cells that produce electric charges strong enough to shock, and sometimes kill their prey. Other fish, including sharks, use a weaker version of this electronic field to help them navigate the murky waters where they live. They also use it to home in on prey and monitor their surroundings. Bony fish and some frogs (not me, though) possess 'lateral lines' on either side of their bodies that detect electrical current in the water. pretty cool, eh?
4. Magnetic sense. There is a magnetic field that surrounds our planet that is caused by the flow of molten materials at the earth's core and by the flow of ions in the earth's atmosphere. Just as you humans use a compass to find magnetic north, some animals possess a magnetic sense that can help them orient themselves in specific directions as well as navigate long distances. behavioral studies of animals show that a diverse range of "critters"...honey bees, sharks, sea turtles, rays, homing pigeons, tuna, salmon, and migratory birds all have magnetic senses. it's not yet known, unfortunately, how these animals use their magnetic senses to detect the earth's magnetic fields. One thought is that the small deposit of magnetite found in the nervous systems of these animals, these magnetic-like crystals align themselves with the earth's magnetic fields, acting like a teeny, tiny compass needle!
Animals really are special...and no gadgets required!