11 Animals That Have a Sixth Sense

Additional perceptive abilities allow animals to experience the world in ways we can't imagine.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins using echolocation to swim in a pod of three and hunt prey
Cat Gennaro / Getty Images

The famous philosopher Aristotle was the first to assign humans with five traditional senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. However, if he categorized animal senses today, the list would have been longer. Several animals possess additional perceptive abilities that allow them to experience the world in ways we can barely imagine. Here's our list of 11 animals that have a sixth sense.

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jumping spider with what looks like four eyes and a very furry body in shades of brown.

USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab / Flickr / Public Domain

All spiders have unique organs called slit sensilla. These mechanoreceptors, or sensory organs, allow them to sense minute mechanical strains on their exoskeleton. This sixth sense makes it easy for spiders to judge things like the size, weight, and possibly even the creature that gets caught in their webs.

It may also help them tell the difference between the movement of an insect and the movement of the wind, or blade of grass.

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Comb Jellies

Comb jelly with glowing purple comb like strands of bioluminescent sensory nerve net

evantravels / Shutterstock

Jellies have some sensory organs unfamiliar to those of us with human senses. These majestic gelatinous creatures have specialized balance receptors called statocysts that allow them to balance themselves. Ocelli, which are simple photo-receptors, allow the eyeless animals to sense light and dark without creating a complex image. Both of these are part of the nerve network that enables the comb jelly to detect food nearby through changes in the chemical structure of the water.

Since they don't have a centralized nervous system, comb jellies also rely on this specialized sense to better coordinate the movements of their cilia to reel in food.

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Flying pigeon viewed from below. Pigeon has a grey head and neck, yellow markings under one wing, green under the other, dark grey tail, white abdomen and a combination of white and grey wing feathers

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Pigeons have a sixth sense called magnetoreception. Many migratory animals, from salmon to sea turtles, have a unique ability to detect Earth's magnetic field that they utilize like a compass to navigate great distances. Among birds, few perform it better than pigeons, especially domestic homing pigeons.

Scientists have learned that pigeons have magnetite-containing structures in their beaks. These structures give the birds an acute sense of spatial orientation, allowing them to identify their geographical position.

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Enormous pod of dolphins breaching and swimming together in the Sea of Cortes

Oli Anderson / Getty Images

These charismatic sea mammals have the incredible sixth sense of echolocation. Because sound travels better in water than in air, dolphins create a three-dimensional visual representation of their surroundings based entirely on sound waves, much like a sonar device. Sound waves reflected back to the emitter allow an object to be located. This serves to orient an animal, hunt prey, avoid obstacles, and interact socially.

Echolocation allows dolphins and other toothed cetaceans, whales, and porpoises, to hunt for prey where visibility is limited or non-existent, whether that is a murky river or the depths of the ocean where light doesn't reach.

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Hammerhead shark near the sandy bottom of the ocean swimming in blue water

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Electroreception is the remarkable ability of sharks and rays to detect electrical fields in their surroundings. Jelly-filled tubes called ampullary of Lorenzini house this sixth sense. The arrangement and numbers of the ampullary vary depending on whether the primary prey is active or more sedentary.

The strange shape of a hammerhead shark's head allows for an enhanced electroreceptive sense by enabling them to sweep a greater area of the ocean floor. Because saltwater is such a good conductor of electricity, sharks with a refined sixth sense can detect their prey from the electrical charges emitted when a fish contracts its muscles.

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school of over a dozen red sockeye salmon migrating in a small Alaskan stream surrounded by green, native plants

Katrina Liebich / USFWS / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Salmon, as do other fish, have magnetoreception, or the ability to sense the Earth's magnetic field as their sixth sense. Salmon notably find their way back to spawn in the same rivers from which they were born, despite traveling great distances in the open ocean during their adult life. How do they do it?

It is still mostly a mystery to science. Scientists believe salmon utilize magnetite deposits in their brains to pick up the Earth's magnetic field. Salmon additionally have a refined sense of smell and can discern the scent of their home stream in a single drop of water. They pick up that scent as they leave their spawning ground, and remember it on the return journey.

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flying foxes viewed from below as the bats fly at sunset with light clouds and a few tropical Australian trees present

Regis Martin / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Bats have a trifecta of sixth senses, or perhaps a sixth, seventh, and eighth sense: echolocation, geomagnetic, and polarization.

Bats use echolocation to find and capture prey. They have a larynx capable of generating an ultrasonic buzz, which they emit through their mouths or nose. As the sound travels, sound waves bounce back and give the bats radar-like information about their surroundings. This only works to provide them with a short-range perception of their environment—distances of about 16 to 165 feet.

Bats use their geomagnetic sense as a compass to navigate long distances, such as for migration. Magnetite-based receptors in their brains, possibly in their hippocampal and thalamus neurons, give bats this ability. They are able to detect even very weak magnetic fields.

The most recently discovered "sixth sense" is polarization vision. Polarization vision, or sensing the sun's pattern in the sky, is something bats can do even on cloudy days or when the sun has set. It is unknown what physiological structure gives them this ability, since bats do not have the visual forms found in other animals that use the position of the sun's rays. Therefore, this vision isn't seeing in the traditional sense when it comes to bats. Bats use this sense in conjunction with their geomagnetic sense for navigation.

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Mantis Shrimp

pair of brightly colored Mantis shrimps

Lea Lee / Getty Images

Mantis shrimp also have a sixth sense related to polarization. They detect and communicate with other mantis shrimp using linear polarized light, even in ultraviolet and green wavelengths. On top of that, they also can do this with circularly polarized light.

From Scientific American: "Light bouncing off objects always contains a polarized component, and this property of light can reveal objects that otherwise blend into the background; mantis shrimp use it to find prey in their blue-tinged ocean environs."

Mantis shrimp are the only animal known to have the circularly polarized light capability. These abilities give them a vast repertoire of signals that only other mantis shrimp can see and understand.

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Weather Loaches

weather loach, a eel like striped fish and fronds of aquatic grasses

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Weather loaches, also known as weatherfish, have an incredible ability to detect changes in pressure. They use this sense to monitor buoyancy underwater and to compensate for the lack of a swim bladder. This ability comes through something called the Weberian apparatus. The Weberian apparatus, which consists of four bones located behind the skull, is present in many species of fish, and it improves hearing underwater by "conducting pressure changes produced by externally originating sound waves from the swim bladder to the ear."

Remarkably, this sixth sense also allows these fish to "predict" the weather, and fishermen and aquarium owners have long recognized changes in their activity as large storms approach.

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platypus head
The platypus doesn't have any teeth inside its interesting mouth.

Mari_May / Shutterstock

These bizarre, duck-billed, egg-laying mammals have an incredible sense of electroreception, similar to the sixth sense of sharks. Using electrical impulses, they are able to locate prey in the dark, muddy waters of rivers and streams. The platypus has about 40,000 electroreceptor cells in its bill, found in stripes in both halves of the bill. The bill also contains push-rod mechanoreceptors, which give the animal an acute sense of touch and make the platypus' bill its primary sense organ.

A platypus swings its head from side to side while swimming as a way to enhance this sense.

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Sea turtles

sea turtle swimming in tropical waters above coral

idreamphoto / Shutterstock

All sea turtles have a geomagnetic sense. Female sea turtles have a natal homing capability that is not well understood but allows them to find their way back to the beach where they hatched. Leatherback sea turtles have a particular type of biological clock, or "third eye" sense. Sea turtles use these abilities to know when to migrate, where they are in the ocean in relation to feeding areas, and how to find the beach where they hatched.

The leatherback sea turtle has a light pink spot on its head, a pineal gland that acts as a skylight and gives the turtle information about the seasons, and therefore influences migration.

Given the vast distances they travel, their ability to locate their home beach and feeding grounds is remarkable. As with many migratory animals, sea turtles accomplish this navigation by measuring the earth's magnetic field. Researchers now believe that the mechanism behind this ability comes from magnetotactic bacteria. These bacteria have movement influenced by the earth's magnetic fields and form symbiotic relationships with host animals.