Predicting Earthquakes With Animal Behavior

By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor,

Normally, when seismic activity is on the rise and earthquakes are predicted, we hear form organizations such as the U.S. Geological Survey that provide quantitative data from seismometers, which measure movements within the Earth.  In fact, you can view this information on a global scale in real time here.

However, according to Alex Linder of, Chinese seismologists are taking a different approach.  Researchers with the Nanjing Seismological Bureau want to determine if the collective behavior of masses of animals — such as chickens, toads, pigs, and fish — scattered across a number of farms, can predict earthquakes.

Sound far fetched?  The idea isn’t without merit.

First, the Chinese are the pioneers in earthquake detection.  They invented the world’s first seismograph over 2,000 years ago, and it would even indicate the direction of the earthquake.  More recently, according to Alex, the Chinese Academy of Sciences report findings going back decades that indicate abnormal behavior in a variety of animals before an earthquake struck.  However, the research isn’t conclusive.  Thus the current effort by the Nanjing bureau.

The project works like this: two times a day, observers are to make descriptive reports of animal behavior across the farms.  They are specifically watching for abnormal behavior, which seems to be a “know it when you see it” phenomenon, such as “chickens flying atop trees” or “a large number of fish leaping out of  water.” The sites will also be monitored with cameras that integrate data from all of the sites, which will be reviewed by experts in the field.

Presumably, though not discussed in the Sanghaiist article, if animals really do change their behavior before the occurrence of an earthquake, they would be responding to seismic waves emanating from subtle geologic shifts deep underground.  If this is the case, one could then research ways of training animals to become increasingly sensitive to, or respond in particular ways to, such events.

Be sure to check out the full article here and let us know what you think about the project in the comments below.  Also, be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles, and free monthly issues, directly to your inbox!

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