New study suggests how toads might predict earthquakes

December 2, 2011 by Bob Yirka, report

The trouble with earthquakes, other than their obvious devastation, is that thus far they have proved to be very nearly impossible to predict, despite considerable effort towards that goal; being able to do so would obviously save a lot of lives. Also, despite the fact that there is literally hundreds, if not thousands of years of anecdotal evidence suggesting that some animals may have some innate ability to predict quakes, modern research has instead been steadfastly focused on studying the Earth, rocks, faults, etc.

That may change now that biologist Rachel Grant, from the UK’s Open University has found evidence that can predict a up to several days before the ground starts shaking. She’s teamed up with NASA geophysicst, Friedemann Freund and the two of them, as they describe in their paper in the Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, suggest that it might all be because of changes to the pond water in which the toads are living.

Grant was studying the toads that lived in a pond near L'Aquila, Italy, in 2009 in the days just before a devastating earthquake struck. In those few days just before it happened, she noted that the toads began leaving. Their numbers dwindled from just under a hundred, to zero, causing her to write about her observations in the Journal of Zoology. That caught the attention of Freund, who was doing work for NASA in studying what happens to rocks when put under extreme stress, as in say, when an earthquake is in the making. He contacted Grant, and the two of them began investigating ways that such rock pressure could impact the environment where the toads lived.

After some experiments in the lab, the two write that when rocks underground come under pressure as a result of geological processes, they let off charged particles. Such particles can very quickly rise to and above the surface of the Earth, impacting such things as pond water and the biological material in it. In the case of the pond in Italy, it seems the toads may have been reacting to changes they felt in the water itself as ions interacting with it react to form minute amounts of hydrogen peroxide. Or it seems possible that ions interacting with organic material in the pond caused substances to be released that either were toxic or less ominously, simply irritating. Either way, it would explain their sudden exodus.

The problem with proving their theory though, is of course, they’d have to know when and where an is about to strike so as to allow them to set up testing equipment in advance. Perhaps the best that can be done at this point, is for such information to disseminated all over the world, so that if anyone happens to live near a pond, and notices that the toads are leaving, they would be wise to follow them.

Explore further: Toads' earthquake exodus

More information: Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2011, 8, 1936-1956; doi:10.3390/ijerph8061936

Related Stories

Toads' earthquake exodus

March 30, 2010

Common toads (Bufo bufo) can detect impending seismic activity and alter their behaviour from breeding to evacuation mode, suggests a new study in the Zoological Society of London's (ZSL) Journal of Zoology.

Italian tadpole rescue mission under way

May 11, 2006

A complex emergency rescue mission reportedly is under way near Milan, Italy, to save the lives of hundreds of rare tadpoles discovered at a building site.

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Dec 02, 2011
After some experiments in the lab, the two write that when rocks underground come under pressure as a result of geological processes, they let off charged particles. Such particles can very quickly rise to and above the surface of the Earth, impacting such things as pond water and the biological material in it.

Ok, how do they emit charged particles? And how do charged particles manage to move to the surface from deep underground? Is it behaving like a battery, conducting charge through the ground and driving chemical reactions on the surface???

This article is so frustratingly vague!
not rated yet Dec 02, 2011
Ok, I found the paper (the link in the article is incorrect).
not rated yet Dec 02, 2011
Interesting, I knew about things like this vaguely from reading into oil and gas industry practices/tech. Something about multiphase flows underground acting as electrorheological fluids, or some products they use to measure pore pressures are, something like that. There's actually some pretty far out reading online in regards to petro-related works, if that's up your alley.

I could definitely see some sort of subtle chemical signaling " tip-off " possibly happening. Toads might not really be conscious of it, per se`, it could be more based on chemical changes and environmental stimulus in the form of offgassing from the ground.

During the 2005 Tsunami, hermit crabs fled the beach to high ground, that's why I think something like fake shells with trackers/sensors/monitoring systems in them could be used to test theories like this.

5 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2011
Easy to prove... Just fit a bunch of frogs with RFID tags in ponds/lakes near earthquake prone areas. When they suddenly vacate, setting off alarms before earthquakes a few times, it should be obvious. I am sure someone at Caltech could get a grant to test the theory. Wouldn't that be something if it really worked?
not rated yet Dec 02, 2011
Just watch out for false positives. There's more than one way to create ROS in the water, all of which would presumably have the same effect on the frogs - exodus.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2011
I can't wait until the day the USGS starts issuing "Toad Alert" levels. And I'm thinking there are probably quite a few relevant phrases for which TOAD would be a handy acronym.

Like "Terrestrial Overload Amphibian Distress" Alerts.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.