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How Good Are Animals at Predicting Earthquakes?

Margaret Lipman
Updated May 16, 2024
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The belief that animals have the ability to sense earthquakes before they happen has been around for thousands of years. In various legends from around the world, cats, dogs, snakes, insects, goats, cows, fish, and many other creatures have been ascribed this amazing predictive ability. In modern times, stories abound of domestic, wild, and farm animals behaving strangely in the days or hours leading up to an earthquake.

In 2018, researchers at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences used a statistical approach to examine descriptions of unusual animal behavior coinciding with seismic activity. The scientists looked at more than 700 reports relating to 160 earthquakes, covering over 130 animal species. The evidence spanned the globe, though most came from Japan, Taiwan, Italy, and New Zealand. Ultimately, however, due to the largely unscientific nature of these reports, the researchers concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the theory.

The majority of reports focused on a 2010 earthquake in New Zealand, a 1984 earthquake in Japan, and a 2009 earthquake in Italy. Most of the observations of animal behavior were taken at a single time, rather than a series of observations over time. There was also significant variation in the amount of time before the earthquake and the distance from the epicenter at which the behavior was noticed.

I feel the Earth move:

  • Snakes regularly feature in tales of earthquake prediction, though rather than predicting earthquakes, they are probably sensing the minor tremors known as foreshocks that precede a major quake. Officials in Nanning, in the Guangxi region of southern China, have claimed that snakes can detect earthquakes up to five days in advance from 70 miles (120 km) away. In 2006, they set up a system to monitor live feeds of snakes at local farms to watch for evidence of snakes leaving their nests in an attempt to escape.

  • The U.S. Geological Survey cites an earthquake that struck Ancient Greece in 373 B.C. as the earliest known mention of the animal behavior theory. Rats, weasels, snakes, and centipedes reportedly headed for safety a few days before the quake struck. However, although the USGS concedes that certain species may be able to pick up vibrations in the ground immediately before a tremor, it seems highly unlikely that they could sense anything days before.

  • In the modern era, a popular urban legend has promoted the belief that animals have an innate ability to sense impending tremors, specifically those in the San Francisco Bay Area. According to the legend, more ads for lost pets appear in the San Jose Mercury News before an earthquake, suggesting that they knew something was about to happen and ran away out of fear. However, a 1988 study found that there was no such correlation.

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Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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