Scientists reveal how this 'magnetic' fish finds its way home at night 

In a recently published study, scientists explain how coral reef fish larvae are able to navigate back home at night—with the help of magnetic forces.

Small fish that hatch on coral reefs are typically pushed far away by water currents; however, as many as 60 percent of survivors are able to find their way back home.

These fish are thought to use the sun's position to help direct them during the day, but it was unknown how they knew where to swim at night.

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Marine life in coral reefs

A giant green turtle rests on a coral reef at a diving site near the island of Sipadan in Celebes Sea east of Borneo November 7, 2005.

(Peter Andrews / Reuters)

Golden butterflyfish (Chaetodon semilarvatus) swimming over coral reef with a large school of pygmy sweepers (Parapriacanthus guentheri) and soft corals (Dendronephthya sp.). Egypt, Red Sea.

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Pterois is a genus of venomous marine fish, commonly known as lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific. Pterois, also called zebrafish, firefish, turkeyfish or butterfly-cod, is characterized by conspicuous warning coloration with red, white, creamy, or black bands, showy pectoral fins, and venomous spiky fin rays.

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A pair of golden butterflyfish (Chaetodon semilarvatus), a pair of threadfin butterflyfish (Chaetodon auriga) and goldies or lyretail anthias (Pseudanthias squamipinnis). Egypt, Red Sea.

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School of Maldives

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The foxface rabbitfish (Siganus vulpinus) is a popular saltwater aquarium fish. It belongs to the rabbitfish family (Siganidae) and is sometimes still placed in the obsolete genus Lo.

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Details of fauna in the Coral Reef seen in Ripley's Aquarium. Coral reefs are underwater structures made from calcium carbonate secreted by corals. Coral reefs are colonies of tiny animals found in marine waters that contain few nutrients.

(Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Snapper and Sweetlips in Coral Reef, North Male Atoll, Maldives

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Clownfish in Bali, Indonesia

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Yellow-ribbon Sweetlips between Soft Corals, Plectorhinchus polytaenia, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia

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Emperor Angelfish, Pomacanthus imperator, Himendhoo Thila, North Ari Atoll, Maldives

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Shoal of Humpback Snapper, Lutjanus gibbus, Cocoa Corner, South Male Atoll, Maldives

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Coralfishes on Coral Reef, North Ari Atoll, Maldives

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Powder-blue surgeonfish (Acanthurus leucosternon) and Lyretail anthias (Pseudanthias squamipinnis) swimming past soft corals (Dendronephthya sp). Egypt, Red Sea.

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To test their response to magnetic forces, researchers from Australia and Germany collected baby Cardinal fish from the Great Barrier Reef and exposed them to a magnetic field similar to the one around the large structure.

As one of the scientists, Mike Kingsford, is quoted as saying in a news release, "Normally, fish orientated to the south east, but when we altered the magnetic field clockwise by 120 degrees, there was a significant change in the direction the fish swam. They all turned further west, thinking they were still on track to their destination."

As such, he concluded by stating, "Our results show that larvae can use their magnetic senses to point them in the right direction when it's night time."

The team believes this capability may apply to other marine animals which could help scientists better map—and protect—-their populations.

Related: Coral bleaching

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Coral Bleaching
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Coral Bleaching
Corals are seen at the Great Barrier Reef in this January 2002 handout photo. Rising carbon dioxide levels in the world's oceans due to climate change, combined with rising sea temperatures, could accelerate coral bleaching, destroying some reefs before 2050, says a new Australian study. Picture taken January 2002. REUTERS/Centre for Marine Studies, The University of Queensland/Ove Hoegh-Guldberg/Handout (AUSTRALIA). FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Corals are seen at the Great Barrier Reef in this January 2002 handout photo. Rising carbon dioxide levels in the world's oceans due to climate change, combined with rising sea temperatures, could accelerate coral bleaching, destroying some reefs before 2050, says a new Australian study. Picture taken January 2002. REUTERS/Centre for Marine Studies, The University of Queensland/Ove Hoegh-Guldberg/Handout (AUSTRALIA). FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
An undated photo shows the effect of "bleaching" on coral off Caye Caulker, Belize. Much of the 200 miles (320 km) of Belize's coral reef has been "bleached" in the last decade and some scientists warn it is likely to die, a victim of global warming. To match feature ENVIRONMENT CORAL BELIZE REUTERS/Susannah Sayler (BELIZE)
Marine activist Suzanne Kavanagh swims above coral suffering from bleaching on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The world's largest coral structure is experiencing its worst ever case of bleaching, which scientists fear could threaten its fragile marine environment. Picture taken 25APR98. REUTERS/Handout
(GERMANY OUT) Bleached Corals, Cenderawasih Bay, West Papua, Indonesia (Photo by Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Bleached Mushroom coral, Ctenactis echinata, Komodo National Park, Indian Ocean, Indonesia (Photo by Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND OUT) Aerial view of the Agincourt number three reef from the Quicksilver Eight pontoon on the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland. A team of researchers have placed a shade cloth measuring five metres by five metres on the surface of the water to protect the coral below from the sun, which is believed to be causing bleaching on the reef, 10 February 2005. THE AGE Picture by SIMON O'DWYER (Photo by Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)
This photo, taken in Thailand in the summer of 2010, is one of many parts of the world where scientists found coral bleaching in 2010, the warmest year on record. Bleaching weakens corals and in some cases kills them. (Mark Eakin/NOAA/MCT via Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Bleached Corals, Cenderawasih Bay, West Papua, Indonesia (Photo by Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
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