Image Source: NPL via BBC.
There is an Old Wives' Tale that animals behave peculiarly before earthquakes and other natural disasters. This superstition has some substance. National Geographic discussed it, as did PBS. Some researchers think that animals can hear quake disturbances before humans can.
BBC reports that water- and ground-dwelling creatures sense a change in the groundwater prior to an earthquake:
According to this logic, one might investigate bizarre animal behaviour in seemingly calm environmental conditions as a possible earthquake prediction tool. The Japanese have attempted this. American researchers remain skeptical. Seismic prediction is a difficult and currently inexact science, characterized by additional unexplained phenomena such as earthquake lights, known to appear above the sky of a quake zone prior to and during an earthquake (see purported photos of them here, here and here).Animals may sense chemical changes in groundwater that occur when an earthquake is about to strike.
This, scientists say, could be the cause of bizarre earthquake-associated animal behaviour.
Researchers began to investigate these chemical effects after seeing a colony of toads abandon its pond in L'Aquila, Italy, in 2009 - days before a quake.
They suggest that animal behaviour could be incorporated into earthquake forecasting.
The team's findings are published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. In this paper, they describe a mechanism whereby stressed rocks in the Earth's crust release charged particles that react with the groundwater.
Animals that live in or near groundwater are highly sensitive to any changes in its chemistry, so they might sense this days before the rocks finally "slip" and cause a quake.
The team, led by Friedemann Freund from Nasa and Rachel Grant from the UK's Open University hope their hypothesis will inspire biologists and geologists to work together, to find out exactly how animals might help us recognise some of the elusive signs of an imminent earthquake.
Out of curiosity, I searched for recent events of this kind: on 3 May 2012, thousands of frogs swarmed the streets of Jingzhou City, Hubei Province, China, sparking local fears of a coming earthquake. See a video of the frogs on the streets of the town, here. Scientists blamed the phenomenon on unusual weather conditions.