A Moment of Science

Sensing Disaster

You know how animals are supposed to be able sense disasters before they happen?

Well some believe it’s a myth, though there are lots of reports of animals behaving strangely days before the tsunamis hit in Indonesia. Hundreds of thousands of ants were seen scurrying away from the beach. Elephants, dogs, and zoo animals were all reported to have been acting strangely.

What can explain it?

It’s well known that many animals sense things that we can’t. Dogs, for example, can hear sounds pitched beyond human range and have an extraordinary sense of smell.

All animals, including humans, have very sensitive receptors in their skin called Pacinian corpuscles. They allow us to sense even the most minute vibrations against the skin. Some animals, such as elephants, have an unusual number of these receptors in their feet. Because animals have more direct contact with the ground than we do, they may be able to sense vibrations caused by advancing earthquakes and tidal waves.

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