Abstract

In public perception, abnormal animal behavior is widely assumed to be a potential earthquake precursor, in strong contrast to the viewpoint in natural sciences. Proponents of earthquake prediction via animals claim that animals feel and react abnormally to small changes in environmental and physico‐chemical parameters related to the earthquake preparation process. In seismology, however, observational evidence for changes of physical parameters before earthquakes is very weak.

In this study, we reviewed 180 publications regarding abnormal animal behavior before earthquakes and analyze and discuss them with respect to (1) magnitude–distance relations, (2) foreshock activity, and (3) the quality and length of the published observations. More than 700 records of claimed animal precursors related to 160 earthquakes are reviewed with unusual behavior of more than 130 species. The precursor time ranges from months to seconds prior to the earthquakes, and the distances from a few to hundreds of kilometers. However, only 14 time series were published, whereas all other records are single observations. The time series are often short (the longest is 1 yr), or only small excerpts of the full data set are shown. The probability density of foreshocks and the occurrence of animal precursors are strikingly similar, suggesting that at least parts of the reported animal precursors are in fact related to foreshocks. Another major difficulty for a systematic and statistical analysis is the high diversity of data, which are often only anecdotal and retrospective. The study clearly demonstrates strong weaknesses or even deficits in many of the published reports on possible abnormal animal behavior. To improve the research on precursors, we suggest a scheme of yes and no questions to be assessed to ensure the quality of such claims.

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