Recent evidence suggests that toads are able to predict earthquakes after researchers observed a mass exodus of toads from a breeding site in L’Aquila, Italy, five days before a major tremor struck.
While anecdotes and folklore have linked unusual animal behavior to cataclysmic events like earthquakes since ancient times, hard evidence has been scarce. Furthermore, even those that have been shown to react, such as fish, rodents and snakes tend to do so shortly before an earthquakes strikes, rather than days ahead of the event.
Toads are known to remain active in large numbers at breeding sites until spawning has finished. However, 96% of the males abandoned the site 5 days before the quake hits, when spawning had barely begun. The number of toads at the site fell to zero three days before the quake and only started coming back the day after it ended. This highly unusual behaviour prompts researchers to surmise that millions of years of evolution could have given the toads the ability to detect impending quakes, triggering them to flee to higher ground, where they would be at less risk from rock falls, landslides and flooding.
Although the exact method used by the toads remains unclear, findings suggest that toads are able to detect pre-seismic cues such as the release of gases and charged particles, and use these as a form of earthquake early warning system.
Hopefully, this will lead to the introduction of a toad-led earthquake early warning system that will prove to be both swift and accurate.
“Toads can ‘predict earthquakes’ and seismic activity” Matt Walker, Earth News, March 31 2010. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8593000/8593396.stm
“Study suggests toads can detect coming earthquakes” Jill Lawless, The Associated Press, March 31 2010. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/31/AR2010033100665.html