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China uses snake-based earthquake prediction system

A province in southern China has come up with a unique way to predict earthquakes: snakes.

According to China Daily and as reported by Reuters, the earthquake bureau in Nanning, capital of the Guangxi province, has set up a 24-hour video feed to monitor the behavior of snakes at snake farms. The scientists say that snakes are particularly sensitive to vibrations caused by impending earthquakes.

Predicting a fill stomach. Photo by Rhett Butler.

“Of all the creatures on Earth, snakes are perhaps the most sensitive to earthquakes,” bureau director Jiang Weisong was quoted as saying according to Reuters. “When an earthquake is about to occur, snakes will move out of their nests, even in the cold of winter. If the earthquake is a big one, the snakes will even smash into walls while trying to escape.”

Jiang reportedly said that snakes can sense an earthquake from 120 km (70 miles) away, three to five days before it happens.

China Daily didn’t indicate the basis for his statement.

While some seismologists have argued that animals can detect the P-wave or ultrasonic wave generated by an earthquake or that animals respond to an increase in low-frequency electromagnetic signals, there is no scientific evidence that animals can be used to consistently predict tremors, especially well before a quake strikes. Further seismometers are more sensitive to P-waves than animals. Despite this, folklore holds that animals act strangely prior to major earthquakes.

For example, there are some claims that prior to the December 26th, 2004 tsunami, animals left coastal areas and retreated to higher ground. One often cited instance occurred in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu where the chief conservator of forests said that minutes before the tsunami struck, 500 blackbucks moved from the coast to a nearby hilltop.

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