Dogs bark and become restless, birds leave their nests, elephants roar and even ants behave conspicuously when an earthquake is imminent. There are many such reports and studies. Do animals get an early warning about earthquakes? Let’s find out

Hundreds of thousands of toads crawl out of the earth and hop through the city, mice suddenly lie motionless on the ground, the bees flee, and snakes move to the edge of the pond. A short time later, which is sometimes a few weeks, a few days, hours, or even minutes, the earth shakes. Our ancestors, who knew how to interpret the strange behavior of the animals and understood it as a warning signal, moved to safety. 

Countless such reports circulate on the Internet. While researchers emphasize that the exact time of an earthquake depends on a large number of factors and based on the current state of knowledge, it can probably never be exactly predicted. Animals on the other hand, regardless of whether they are wild or domesticated, often seem to feel earthquakes well beforehand. But can animals actually warn of earthquakes? Why are they able to know about earthquakes early?

The Study 

animals pretend earthquakes
Image Source – Discover magazine

Scientists are concerned with this question and according to them, the conspicuous behavior of animals before earthquakes could also have other causes. The researchers examined around 200 scientific publications on the subject as they needed the information about animal behavior and the time in which it changed, as well as the distance of the animals to the quake.

Ultimately, the study incorporated more than 700 observations of abnormal animal behavior, which were made during 160 earthquakes and affected more than 130 animal species, including sheep and goats as well as snakes and fish. The reports came from two dozen countries, most of them from New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, and Italy. The scientists are now able to provide the first comprehensive statistical analysis on the relationship between seismic activity and animal behavior.

More Quakes, More Animal Reports 

In a first step, it was found that at least 90 percent of the conspicuous animal behavior was within 100 kilometers of the future quake. In a second step, the researchers found that the strange behavior of the animals was mostly observed in the two months before the quake. The animal data resulted in a space-time window of 100 kilometers around the earthquake and 60 days before.

For all strong earthquakes I.e. magnitude 6 and larger, in the period from 2000 to 2012, the scientists examined whether earthquakes had occurred within 60 days and within a radius of 100 kilometers. They recorded the results in a diagram that they compared with the space-time diagram from the animal data. They noticed that the two curves coincided. The closer they got to the earthquake, the more pre-quakes there are and the more common are reports of animal behavior. Both have a clear maximum on the last day before the quake and especially in the last minutes before.

Do animals pretend earthquake
Image Source – Twitter/@ZoramthangaCM

The conclusion was that much of the abnormal animal behavior may be because the animals felt the quakes. That would also explain why there were earthquakes that kept the animals calm. Not every quake announces itself. Several earthquakes literally occur spontaneously including the man-made ones.

It also works without the sixth sense 

However, the animals do not need a sixth sense to know the earthquakes beforehand. They will not escape the seismographs, the devices that record ground vibrations. However, quakes are also noticeable to many people.

But what can we think of the reports of roaring elephants that are said to have saved the inhabitants of the Indian Andaman and the Nicobar Islands from the devastating tsunami in December 2004? The strange behavior of the animals, it can be read in many cases and also on the part of some researchers, drove people to escape in time before the giant wave. The possible explanation to the case can be that the quake had already taken place and the animals probably reacted exactly to that. It takes a while for the tsunami to roll in.

And just as people feel earthquakes with varying degrees of sensitivity, there are apparently also some animals that are more sensitive. There were reports drawn of elephants that happened to be equipped with GPS and that were not at all conspicuous during the tsunami. They went on their way calmly.

Do elephants predict earthquake
Image Source – National Geographic

If you look at the reports on the Internet about the behavior of animals in quakes, you can get the impression that the problem of earthquake prediction has been solved but that’s very misleading. According to the geoscientists, animals can sometimes feel and react to ground vibrations just like humans. But the scientists who conducted these experiments did not see any great prospects of success that they could actually be used as an earthquake warning.

Suggested Read – How Are Earthquakes Caused

According to what we know, an accurate prediction of the location, strength, and time of an earthquake does not seem possible. And even the reliable early warning based on pre-quakes or gas leaks from the underground is fraught with uncertainty and so far even the most modern Sensors have failed. Animals don’t provide any additional information.

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