Certain long-distance migratory animals, such as salmon and sea turtles, are thought to imprint on the magnetic field of their natal area and to use this information to help them return as adults. Despite a growing body of indirect support for such imprinting, direct experimental evidence thereof remains elusive. Here, using the fruit fly as a magnetoreceptive model organism, we demonstrate that exposure to a specific geographic magnetic field during a critical period of early development affected responses to a matching magnetic field gradient later in life. Specifically, hungry flies that had imprinted on a specific magnetic field from 1 of 3 widely separated geographic locations responded to the imprinted field, but not other magnetic fields, by moving downward, a geotactic behavior associated with foraging. This same behavior occurred spontaneously in the progeny of the next generation: female progeny moved downward in response to the field on which their parents had imprinted, whereas male progeny did so only in the presence of these females. These results represent experimental evidence that organisms can learn and remember a magnetic field to which they were exposed during a critical period of development. Although the function of the behavior is not known, one possibility is that imprinting on the magnetic field of a natal area assists flies and their offspring in recognizing locations likely to be favorable for foraging and reproduction.
magnetic imprinting, geomagnetic field, fruit fly, transgenerational inheritancem, magnetoreception