Toads May Hold Key to Next Big Earthquake

Toads discovered to have fled days before quake struck in Italy

By Matt Baume
|  Wednesday, Mar 31, 2010  |  Updated 1:56 PM PDT
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AP

A British scientist has discovered that a mass exodus of common toads happened five days before a 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila, Italy.

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San Diego residents may want to pay attention next time they hear a worried "ribbit."

A British scientist has discovered that a mass exodus of common toads happened five days before a 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila, Italy. Biologist Dr. Rachel Grant hypothesized that the amphibians may have detected gaseous releases or charged particles in the atmosphere, prompting them to flee to safer, higher ground.

Nobody knows exactly how animals are able to predict earthquakes, but limited prior evidence seems to bolster the case for the toads as tectonics-detectors.

A survey of animal behavior before the Northridge quake, for example, yielded reports of nervous cats, dogs and birds. In addition, elephants are known to hear infrasounds generated by the grinding rocks of plate movement.

The US Geological Survey has staked out a conservative stance on the issue of animals predicting earthquakes, stating, "Changes in animal behavior can not be used to predict earthquakes."

But other scientists are more open-minded. Biologist Rupert Sheldrake has proposed an animal-monitoring system whereby pet owners could report erratic animal behavior for scientists to analyze and potentially issue pre-quake warnings.

We're all eager for an early-warning system for quakes. But are we eager enough to build toad habitats in our apartments?

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