The theory animals can detect earthquakes is longstanding, although proof of this is often anecdotal. However, new research has found that some animals can detect earthquakes hours before a tremor arrives.
Months of observations from researchers at the Max-Planck Institute of Behavioral Biology in Constance/Radolfzell, Germany, and the Center for the Advanced Study of Collective Behavior of the University of Constance found animals do sense earthquakes before they arrive.
The team fitted sensors to farmyard animals such as cows and sheep in an earthquake prone region, and found that the closer in time an earthquake was, the more erratic the animals became.
In the few months over the course of the observations, more than 18,000 small earthquakes occurred, which led to “behavioural abnormalities” in the six cows, five sheep and two dogs which were fitted with sensors.
Study lead author Mike Wikelski said: “In this way, we can not only make correlations afterwards, but also really have a model that can be used for future predictions.
“The closer the animals were to the epicentre of the menacing quake, the sooner they changed their behaviour.
“This is exactly what one would expect if physical changes occurred more frequently at the epicentre of the threatening earthquake and became weaker as they moved further away.
“Collectively, the animals seem to show skills that are not so easy to recognise on an individual level.
Co-author Winfried Pohlmeier, Professor of Econometrics at the University of Constance, added: “Since each animal reacts differently depending on its size, speed and species, they exhibit a heterogeneity comparable to the behaviour of investors in the financial market.”
A small chip on the collar of the animals sent movement data to a central computer every three minutes.
The compute then records if there is a significant increase in the activity of animals for at least 45 minutes.
Mr Wikelski explained that the team has already received such a signal: “And indeed, three hours later, there was a small quake in the region whose epicentre was directly beneath the animals’ stalls.”
More research is needed on the phenomenon and across a larger scale, according to the team behind the study.
For this reason, scientists plan to use the global observation system Icarus on the International Space Station (ISS) to track potential migration habits or large herd behaviour during the time, or prior to, an earthquake hitting a region.