KEY POINTS

  • A new study revealed animals can detect earthquakes before they happen
  • Researchers used scientific instruments to measure the animals' behavior prior an earthquake
  • The animals' reactions depend on their distance from the epicenter

A new study revealed that animals are capable of sensing and reacting to an earthquake before it happens. This phenomenon could serve as a possible forecasting system to predict seismic activity.

There have been anecdotal accounts of animals sensing an impending earthquake. These reports stated that wild animals leave their sleeping and nesting places before a strong earthquake occurs. Likewise, pets and other domesticated animals display unusual behavior before an earthquake.

However, since the unusual behavior of animals can be triggered by a number of factors, a scientific approach is needed in order to determine if they can really sense an impending earthquake.

In a recent study published in the Wiley Online Library, researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz/Radolfzell and the Center for the Advanced Study of Collective Behavior visited a farm in Italy that’s in an earthquake-prone area.

To accurately measure the reactions of the animals, they attached accelerometers to the collars of two dogs, five sheep and six cows. The instruments are designed to monitor the movements of the animals.

During the duration of the study, which lasted several months, about 18,000 earthquakes were detected in the region. The researchers noted that 12 of these earthquakes had a strength of four or higher on the Richter scale.

After going through the data they have collected, the researchers saw a pattern in the movements of the test animals during the earthquakes. According to the researchers, they detected unusual behavioral patterns from the animals up to 20 hours before an earthquake occured.

For the researchers, this finding suggests that the reaction of the animals depends on their distance from the epicenter of an impending earthquake.

“The closer the animals were to the epicenter of the impending shock, the earlier they changed their behavior,” Martin Wikelski, the lead author of the study, explained in a statement. “This is exactly what you would expect when physical changes occur more frequently at the epicenter of the impending earthquake and become weaker with increasing distance.”

The researchers noted that they were only able to recognize the pattern when they analyzed the data gathered from the animals collectively.

“Collectively, the animals seem to show abilities that are not so easily recognized on an individual level,” Wikelski noted.