For centuries, there’s been anecdotal evidence suggesting that certain animals behave oddly in the hours leading up to an earthquake, apparently because they have some way of sensing when it is about to strike. Snakes are thought to flee their dens and become aggressive before a quake, for example, while flocks of birds appear to migrate off course.
“Initial scientific data on earthquakes suggest that some animals can sense these events hours in advance,” says Martin Wikelski, director of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, Germany, and leader of the International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space initiative, or Icarus. “If we can demonstrate this beyond a doubt, it has the potential to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the future. The problem with current earthquake sensing technologies is that they give you just a few seconds warning time.”