Smoldering after the 1906 earthquake in San Fr...

1906 earthquake in San Francisco

Since the time of the Greeks, people have written about strange behavior in local animals before an earthquake hits. The USGS says this about one of these records:

Rats, weasels, snakes, and centipedes reportedly left their homes and headed for safety several days before a destructive earthquake.

Today people notice odd behavior in their pets before an earthquake, like

English: A dog howling in Madrid (Spain). Espa...

  • Dogs barking or even biting for no reason
  • Cats hiding
  • Caged birds being extra restless

But scientists have a lot of trouble finding these things useful. If you have a pet I bet you can guess why: there are too many other reasons an animal might act like this. In fact, it’s so hard to be sure it’s an earthquake coming, most American scientists don’t bother with animals any more. Other scientists in places like Japan and China (where they get lots of earthquakes) are still trying to find ways to use animals as warning systems, though.

One research group in Germany has been studying a different kind of animal’s reaction to earthquakes: ants. They know of at least 15,000 ant colonies built on the fault line running through western Germany.


Ameisen (Photo credit: stachelbeer)

Most of the time the ants spend the night safely in their mounds, only coming out during the day. But sometimes they spend the whole night awake wandering around outside. That’s when the earthquake comes. It’s not until the day after the quake that they settle back into their usual routine.

It’s funny, but those researchers are extra careful to say they aren’t doing their studies to help people predict earthquakes, but just to find out more about ant behavior. I don’t know if ants sometimes party the night away when an earthquake isn’t coming, but they did say it takes a quake of at least 2.0 on the Richter scale to keep them up.

Whatever’s going on, we know animals have senses we don’t. Dogs smell amazingly well, many animals hear things we can’t, and we aren’t even sure what else they can sense. Some of the guesses about the ants include sensing

Rote Ameisen

Rote Ameisen (Photo credit: Alois Staudacher)

  • gas coming up from deep earth cracks just before the quake
  • or even changes in the earth’s magnetic current over the fault

We do know the ants have CO2 and magnetic senses. The question is, how do we figure out which one, or both they’re using? It’s a great question and will probably keep those scientists busy for a long time!

Scientists are still a long way from figuring out how to predict earthquakes even as well as they can weather, but one thing is sure:

If I lived near a fault and saw a bunch of animals acting strangely, I might just spend the next day or two living in a tent in the middle of a field just to be safe!

And you shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, you shall flee, like as you fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with thee. Zechariah 14:5 

More about earthquakes coming up!

PS Does it make more sense to guess these animals have the ability to tell things are going on in such sensitive ways if

  • Evolution is true and everything happens by random accident, or
  • Creation is true and God gave these animals the abilities they need to try to survive?

If people were only valuable because they are more highly evolved than other organisms, where would that leave us? It’s nice to know we are special because God made us in His image and He has chosen us to be special!

I first heard about the ants while listening to Pastor Enyart’s Real Science Radio. I don’t care much about the debate he’s discussing, but was very excited to hear about the earthquakes!

Cheri Fields

I'm a homeschooling blogger and book writer. The gift God has given me for His kingdom is to understand complex stuff (mostly) and share it with others using everyday words. It is a joy to share God's wonders with all kinds of people and especially the next generation!


BibleScienceGuy · at

Those researchers you mentioned that are studying ant behavior could get a lot more publicity and funding for their research if they framed it in the context of predicting earthquakes. I think they are missing an opportunity.

We use animals’ God-given abilities in many ways to benefit mankind. Why not learn how to take advantage of quake-sensing abilities some of them may have?

Thanks for an interesting, thought-provoking post.

    Cheri Fields · at

    I think they’re playing it safe- and honest.
    There actually was a lot of publicity recently, try searching “ants earthquakes”. I would guess their financing is good enough they don’t have to push the sensationalism of their findings.
    It’s nice to know what I find amazing is interesting to others too. 🙂

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