Friday, July 12, 2013

Animal Instincts: Can animals really predict troublesome weather?

With all the thunderstorms happening lately, I've been on the lookout for ways to predict the weather before my daily bike ride to work (and the weatherman isn't always the most reliable source). I was told by a friend that "gnats start swarming the day before a storm." But is there any truth to this?

The scientific community is divided on this topic. There is evidence for some animal behavior, such as birds flying lower before a storm. The bird's complicated and fragile respiratory system is sensitive to air pressure changes that make the bird uncomfortable. They tend to stay close to trees before storms, to stay close to shelter and to avoid air pressure discomfort. Researchers in Florida have found that sharks seek deeper water before a hurricane!
In NATURE's Can Animals Predict Disaster? a geologist in California reports an increase in missing pets before an earthquake strikes.

However, the US Geological survey asserts that you cannot predict the weather by changes in animal behavior alone. So far, no one has really been able to reproduce results in a lab.

It's possible that your furry companions can sense infrasonic sounds that we can't hear. Dogs can get spooked from thunderstorms because they can hear much more of it than we can...and it sounds much louder! Storms and earthquake produce these sounds, too.

Bill Barklow, a researcher who appeared in the same issue of NATURE, also believes animals aren’t specially adapted to avoid disaster. “I think it’s really unlikely that hippos or any animal has evolved behavior to avoid tsunamis specifically,” he says. “When they hear these infrasonic sounds that are produced by earthquakes, which happen very infrequently, they probably are just terrified of that very deep, heavy sound coming from a wide angle distant area and they just want to get out of there. So there’s a secondary benefit here. They haven’t evolved an escape behavior for tsunamis, but they are responding to infrasound, which has evolved for communication purposes.”

What do YOU think? Do you or your pets have any ways of predicting bad weather?