Partner Series
Can Animals Predict Earthquakes?
It seems animals tap into primitive senses to predict earthquakes.
Credit: Bert Willaert

Humans rely on computer models and delicate sensors to predict earthquakes. Other animals, it seems, tap into a more primitive sensory tools.

Consider the massive (and deadly) earthquake that hit China in May, 2008. In the days before the quake, thousands of toads hopped along the streets in one of the provinces that was hardest struck.

And in the hours just before the earthquake , zoo animals began acting strangely. Zebras were banging their heads against a door at the zoo in Wuhan, more than 600 miles east of the epicenter. Elephants swung their trunks wildly, almost hitting a staff member. The 20 lions and tigers, which normally would be asleep at midday, were walking around. Five minutes before the quake hit, dozens of peacocks started screeching.

Is there any evidence that these animals, and others, can actually predict an earthquake?

So far, no reliable way has been found to use animals to predict earthquakes, Roger Musson, a seismologist with the British Geological Survey, told the press at the time of the China earthquake. However, there are a few possible reasons for such behavior, he said. The most likely is that the movement of underground rocks before an earthquake generates an electrical signal that some animals can perceive. Another theory holds that other animals can sense weak shocks before an earthquake that are imperceptible to humans.

Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries. We're also on Facebook & Google+.