London — When it comes to predicting earthquakes, toads — warts and all — may be an asset.
British researchers said Wednesday that they observed a mass exodus of toads from a breeding site in Italy five days before a major tremor struck, suggesting the amphibians may be able to sense environmental changes, imperceptible to humans, that foretell a coming quake.
Since ancient times, anecdotes and folklore have linked unusual animal behavior to cataclysmic events like earthquakes, but hard evidence has been scarce. A new study by researchers from the Open University is one of the first to document animal behavior before, during and after an earthquake.
The scientists were studying the common toad — bufo bufo — at a breeding colony in central Italy when they noticed a sharp decline in the number of animals at the site. Days later, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit, killing hundreds of people and badly damaging the town of L’Aquila.