8 Animals That Can Detect Earthquakes Before They Happen

Animals That Can Detect Earthquakes

Earthquakes are one of nature’s most destructive forces. When the ground unexpectedly shifts and rumbles, buildings collapse, infrastructure fails, and panic spreads. Being able to reliably predict these seismic events could save countless lives.

Incredibly, some animals seem to have acquired this life-saving ability. Science shows that several creature species detect and react to impending quakes long before humans realize there is any danger.

In this blog article, we will discuss and talk about eight amazing animals with earthquake sensing capabilities.

8 Animals as Earthquake Sensors

1. Domestic Cats

Of all pets, cats appear especially attuned to imminent seismic activity. There are many accounts of house cats behaving strangely minutes or hours before the ground begins trembling.

Most cats typically sleep for long stretches or wander their homes at will. But cats may hide, yowl, pace, or try to alert owners when they sense a quake coming.

Some experts believe cats pick up very early seismic vibrations and electromagnetic field changes with their sensitive whiskers and paws. These faint tremors and shifts are beyond human perception but may stress cats out enough that they feel compelled to act out.

Cats also have an acute innate sense of danger that drives unusual behavior in response to subtle environmental cues preceding danger.

2. Dogs

Like felines, many dogs also whimper, hide, bark, or pace in the period leading up to an earthquake. Scientists think dogs may be even more adept than cats at sniffing out the very early chemical or atmospheric changes in the air and environment prior to seismic activity.

Some dog owners have even reported dogs refusing to go outdoors or pulling at leashes when being taken outside just before an earthquake strike.

Dogs’ superior sense of smell likely enables them to detect gas emissions or ionic charges in the surrounding air. Other experiments show dogs can identify chemical differences untraceable to humans as slight as a few parts per trillion! So it seems dogs can literally “smell” trouble brewing underground.

3. Horses and Other Livestock

Horses, cattle, sheep, and other barnyard residents also shift their behavior ahead of seismic events. Scientists have documented farm animals refusing food, running back and forth, and standing stock still facing one direction for minutes at a time as much as half a day prior to earthquakes.

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Researchers now recognize these animals detect pre-tremor cues before the Earth’s crust starts its dramatic movements.

Experts believe farm creatures sense incredibly tiny early tremors before full quakes through their hooves or intuit minute shifts in the magnetic fields around fault lines. The livestock then reacts based on an inborn sensitivity to danger.

4. Snakes


Legless snakes cannot detect initial underground vibrations. Yet, like cats, dogs, and many other animals, they still manage to show signs of agitation before seismic shaking starts.

Prior to major quakes, snakes have been observed to slither en masse from their usual shelters, refuse to eat for days at a time, shed skin in abnormal patterns, or strike out defensively at nonexistent threats.

Herpetologists posit snakes rely on a sophisticated array of sensory organs to gather advanced clues about looming environmental threats.

Sophisticated olfactory cells may pick up chemical warning signals while precise inner ear organs sense extremely subtle pre-quake tremors and electromagnetic fluctuations. These allow snakes to determine disaster is imminent so they can enact species-preserving escape behaviors.

5. Ants

Ants are also remarkably adept at presaging seismic events. Research shows that up to three days before an earthquake, ants may vacate their underground nests in huge numbers to relocate above ground.

Entire colonies may frantically empty out onto the Earth’s surface, carrying baby ants and eggs along pheromone trails to a (hopefully) safer habitat location.

Scientists believe ants detect pre-seismic cues like gas emanations from deep fissures in the ground or infrasonic sound waves preceding quakes. Some ant species even emit unique chemical signals apparently serving as public warnings to others in the local area. Talk about emergency preparedness planning!

6. Whales and Dolphins

Some marine creatures demonstrate earthquake sensing abilities as well. Accounts exist of whales and dolphins behaving unusually in the days prior to past earthquakes.

In 2004, over 150 melon-headed whales beached themselves along Japan’s coast two days before a major quake struck just off the country’s shoreline.

Similarly, some scientists think increased dolphin deaths along America’s East Coast in 2011 stemmed from those sea mammals detecting infrasonic noises previewing the deadly Japanese Tōhoku earthquake that March. Apparently, even far out at sea, seismic events emit low, rumbling hints of their eventual arrival that certain sea animals notice.

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7. Elephants

elephants and crows

Of all creatures, elephants might be the most legendary “earthquake detectors” in popular culture. And science seems to back up the legends

One study in northern Thailand found a group of elephants squealing and running from their outdoor shelters over 12 hours before the deadly 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami earthquake took place. These elephants remained agitated and concerned leading up to the eventual quake and resulting killer wave.

Researchers think elephants may sense incredibly tiny early tremors through their padded feet. Alternately, they could be detecting slight fluctuations in electromagnetic fields or underground gas emissions cluing them into future seismic hazards.

Whatever the exact mechanism, elephants seem strongly impacted by looming seismic catastrophes happening many miles distant.

8. Flies and Other Insects

Even tiny insects demonstrate earthquake forecasting capacities in some cases. Unusual gatherings of flies and winged ants have been noted prior to past quakes. Mass bug evacuations from soil have also occurred days before seismic events, similar to ant colony movements.

Experts posit winged insects sense disaster is near through immediate detections of early tremors, gas releases, or electromagnetic shifts.

Non-winged insects may also become aware of coming crises by picking up signals from other creatures fleeing above ground. Regardless of the exact means, something in their environment warns these tiniest of animals to seek safety before earthquake shaking begins.

The Mechanisms Behind Earthquake Detection and Prediction in Animals Scientists do not fully comprehend all the methods these diverse species tap into to identify oncoming seismic hazards.

But several possible (and likely overlapping) mechanisms explain pets, livestock, and wildlife’s seeming sixth sense about earthquakes.

Vibration Detection

The most obvious means animals could employ to forecast quakes involves sensing early seismic vibrations. Every earthquake produces lead-in tremors just preceding the main event.

Called foreshocks, these initial quivers emanate from underground rock faces scraping against each other prior to full fracturing.

Foreshocks may occur days or weeks in advance but hit with a magnitude far below human detection thresholds. However, many creatures with refined sensory abilities seem capable of identifying these early rumbles.

Hoofed animals and snakes likely capitalize on specialized body organs allowing them to pick up faint underground reverberations preceding quakes.

Electromagnetic Field Disturbances

Electromagnetic field fluctuations often transpire prior to seismic events as well. Shifting rock layers send out electromagnetic pulses while stressed rock accumulates electric charge. Since many animals have advanced sensory, nervous, and navigational systems attuned to local magnetic fields, they can easily distinguish these aberrations.

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Sudden electromagnetic irregularities induced by pre-quake geological shifts may disorient animals enough that they display distress behaviors.

So rather than detecting early tremors, certain creatures seem to “feel” that a seismic disturbance is imminent through identifying electromagnetic anomalies nearby fault lines.

Chemical Signal Release

Another earthquake precursor stems from underground rock fractures releasing concentrated bursts of volatile gases days or weeks prior to rupturing fully. Gaseous compounds like radon, helium, and hydrogen seep to the surface through newly opened fissures and cavities formed as tectonic plates grind against each other.

Scientists believe committed gas sniffers like dogs can literally smell seismic movement below by keying into unusual gas signatures wafting up from the soil.

This extraordinary olfactory sense explains canines’ and snakes’ strange earthquake-related conduct when they apparently notice no other disruptive environmental cues.

Infrasound Wave Transmission

Infrasound describes very low-pitched or subsonic sound occurring below human audible levels. Sources like ocean waves, thunder, wind, waterfalls, and pre-seismic rock movements all produce infrasound waves that certain animals can hear.

Since these long-wavelength sound vibrations carry for vast distances, animals may detect infrasonic “rumbles” hinting at distant quakes before they strike a local region.

Elephants and whales likely capitalize on their sharp low-frequency hearing to gather notice of faraway seismic events.

Attuned to the infrasonic cues preceding those eventual earthquake strikes, these remarkable creatures shift their behavior patterns to cope with ensuing environmental chaos they seem to “hear” approaching.

The Fascinating and Mysterious Ways Animals Detect Earthquakes

Clearly, a diverse array of species possesses finely-tuned faculties allowing them to gather advance intel on impending seismic disasters.

Precursor signs like gas emissions, electromagnetic shifts, underground sound waves, and initial low-level tremors apparently provide animals ranging from house pets to forest and sea dwellers with actionable earthquake warnings.

Research into the exact causal mechanisms underlying specific creatures’ “earthquake prediction” abilities remains incomplete. Furthermore, because animals communicate distress in distinct ways, people often fail to comprehend the out-of-character behaviors stem from seismic sensing.

Nevertheless, savvy pet owners, farmers, zookeepers, and indigenous peoples worldwide now recognize key animal activities as potential precursors to serious impending earthquakes.

Heeding unusual animal behaviors preceding seismic catastrophes, like the menagerie of creatures fleeing to high ground before the deadly 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, could amplify disaster preparedness for communities most at risk when the Earth suddenly groans.

So view your domestic and wild animal neighbors as complementary earthquake detection and forecasting systems helping predict geological threats. The lives all species may depend on picking up each other’s environmental peril warnings!