"Can Animals Predict Earthquakes?" from Edcon Publishing

How valid are these "predictions" made by animals - can they really "predict" earthquakes or are these reactions part of their behavior patterns?

An earthquake can be a brutal occurrence. If some method could be found to foretell the coming of earthquakes, it would prove a boon to mankind. Lives and property could be saved and much fear could be avoided by people living in these areas.

One unique theory that scientists have is that animals can sense the coming of earthquakes. Abnormal behavior by some kinds of animals has been noted to occur some time before an earthquake has struck. This strange behavior has been observed in various parts of the world. Sometimes the behavior is apparent weeks before the earthquake, sometimes only hours or minutes before. Scientists wonder if these numerous reports of abnormal behavior before earthquakes are just coincidence. Since these reports come from all over the world, and are so numerous, there must be some logical explanation. The animals' behavior is so noticeable because it is so unusual. They usually act in extreme ways. For example, if an animal normally sleeps or hides at night, it may suddenly behave in just the opposite manner.

Is this type of behavior a reaction of some kind? If such noticeable behavior has occurred so often, does it mean that animals can foretell earthquakes? In Russia, for instance, scientists reported that before an earthquake fish crawled up onto dry land. In Alaska, bears came out of their hiding places for the winter and migrated to the hills two weeks early. In California, farm animals became increasingly restless just moments before an earthquake. Also, in the same area, a few days before an earthquake, frogs were seen jumping more often than usual and even swimming in directions they ordinarily avoided.

These reports have two things in common. They claim that there is either an increase in animal sounds or a restlessness among animals. Although animals may be able to "predict" earthquakes, there is certain information that they cannot provide the scientist with. For instance, animals would not be able to indicate, without doubt, the strength of the earthquake, the exact center, how long it would last and what the cause was. Yet, by observing animals, a simple "prediction" may save hundreds of lives.

China is one country which seriously considers the idea that abnormal behavior of animals can be used to predict earthquakes. The Chinese government distributes pamphlets instructing rural people to report any signs of abnormal animal behavior. Using this method, China hopes to save the lives of thousands of its people.

Records show that in recent years about fifteen earthquakes have been successfully predicted by observing animal behavior. The approximate location, time and origin of the earthquakes were determined from the peoples' reports of animal actions.

In February 1975, an earthquake struck in a Chinese city of about a million people. Very few people were killed because they were prepared for it and had left the city. Two months before, it was observed that snakes had come out of their winter hiding holes and had frozen to death on the icy land. In addition, thousands of people in this area had reported domestic animals acting peculiarly. Had the government ignored or delayed acting on the "predictions," the losses may have been greater.

Even using animals' "predictions," scientists are not always successful. For example, the Chinese were not so lucky the following year, when an earthquake occurred and as a result, almost one million people died. The theory for this was that not all earthquakes are caused by the same force and abnormal animal behavior is a reaction to only certain types of earthquakes. Earthquakes have individual characteristics. Some earthquakes are the result of changes in air pressure or water levels. Others are due to changes in the tilt of the land or in the earth's magnetic fields. It is the combination of these events that makes predictions of earthquakes so difficult for scientists. The question is: To what physical event or characteristics is the animal responding to that results in such noticeable behavior?

The problem is an extremely difficult one. Scientists do not know enough about how animals can sense these changes in the earth. Their limited knowledge of earthquakes, as well as of the animals' abilities, are the two flaws of using animals to foretell earthquakes. The best guess that scientists have been able to make is that animals sense changes in the earth's magnetic fields. The scientists believe that animals have such delicate systems that they can sense the slightest changes in these fields. Working on this idea, scientists have performed tests with various kinds of birds and fish. With equipment attached to the animals, scientists changed the magnetic fields experienced by the animals. As the fields changed, so did the animals' behavior. If earthquakes are indeed due to changes in the earth's magnetic fields and animals can sense these changes, it is logical to use animals for predictions. What may once have been considered an impossible idea, is now quite possible. However, for earthquakes caused by other forces, animals' "predictions" may not be as reliable.

There is no longer the idea that odd animal behavior before an earthquake is just a coincidence. Since it has been supported by fact, there seems to be some link between certain physical events in the earth and the abnormal activity of animals. But, there is still a great deal of detailed work to be done. Scientists still need to learn what changes in the earth cause these unusual reactions in animals. Once these reactions have been understood, instruments can be developed to record them. But even with such instruments, questions still remain. For instance, do the physical changes in the earth take place far enough in advance to make predictions valid? In order to clear out a place before an earthquake strikes, more than just a few minutes time is needed. Scientists also ask how accurate will these instruments be in providing them with warning time before the occurrence of the earthquake. Will these instruments allow scientists to make long range predictions of earthquakes or will they be useful only for warning that an earthquake will occur in a few short minutes? If only a few minutes passes between a prediction and an earthquake, the prediction will be useless. Regardless of the type of earthquake or the nature of the "prediction," the effect is always the same.

Anyone who has seen films or photographs of the destruction that an earthquake can cause, will realize how important these predictions are. In addition to towns and cities being destroyed, the crumbling buildings may often bury their victims. Families are broken up because some or all of the members have been killed. All the possessions that have been collected during the course of a lifetime can be destroyed in a few short seconds. Life as it once was, is difficult, and often impossible, to restore. People must find new places to live and work so that they can begin new lives. It would be a remarkable achievement if all of this could be avoided by the simple predictions of animals.

"Can Animals Predict Earthquakes?" Comprehension Check. Try it first by listening to the questions and writing a, b, c, d, whichever you think is correct. After you do the test first by listening, then read the following and click the radio button of the answer you think is correct.

1. Finding a way to predict an earthquake would be _________

a. just a coincidence.
b. terrible.
c. remarkable.
d. useless.

2. The country which takes seriously the idea that animal behavior can foretell earthquakes is _________

a. Russia.
b. China.
c. Alaska.
d. Greece.

3. Earthquakes _________

a. are all alike.
b. only occur in California.
c. always cause abnormal behavior in animals.
d. are not all alike.

4. Scientists guess that animals sense the changes in _________

a. rural people.
b. air pressure.
c. detection abilities.
d. the earth's magnetic fields.

5. Earthquakes are serious problems _________

a. in few countries.
b. in farming areas only.
c. only in China.
d. in many parts of the world.

6. The second Chinese earthquake mentioned in the story occurred in _________

a. 1974.
b. 1975.
c. 1976.
d. 1977.

7. Scientists who study abnormal animal behavior would probably know much about _________

a. astronomy.
b. biology.
c. geography.
d. history.

8. The characteristic of earthquakes mentioned after changes in the tilt of the land, was _________

a. changes in human behavior.
b. changes in air pressure.
c. changes in water levels.
d. changes in magnetic fields.

9. Another name for this selection could be _________

a. "Disasters Around the World."
b. "Earthquakes of China."
c. "An Earth-Shaking Discovery."
d. "Why Earthquakes Happen."

10. This selection is mainly about _________

a. the Chinese practice of using animals to predict earthquakes.
b. the danger of using animals to predict earthquakes.
c. the possibility of using animals to predict earthquakes.
d. the impossibility of predicting earthquakes.

This story is an article from a series of Reading Comprehension Workbooks by Edcon Publishing Group. Edcon Publishing has a very large selection of different types of readings and other
materials for learning. I highly recommend this company. - The Teacher

See "Animals and Earthquakes" Website
Earthquake Prediction: Wikipedia
Animal Cognition: Wikipedia
The Intelligence of Animals:Youtube
Animals Predict the Tsunami:Youtube

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