Reporting Jason DeRusha
Filed underGood Question, Local, News, Seen On WCCO-TV, Syndicated Local, Watch + Listen, WCCO-TV Shows
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — On Groundhog’s Day, a day where the nation pays attention to the weather prognostication of an over-sized Pennsylvania rodent, we wondered, do animals have any skills when it comes to predicting the weather?
Does the cougar’s hiss, mean a foggy mist? When the bison’s on the ground, is warm weather around?
“It’s something we study on a regular basis,” said Allison Jungheim, a senior zookeeper at Como Zoo in St. Paul.
Not the cougar or the bison business, but animal scientists are always looking at why animals change their behaviors just prior to changes in the weather.
“Animals are just amazing this way,” she said.
Phil the Groundhog has only gotten his forecast right about four out of 10 times, that’s worse than a coin flip. But many researchers suspect animals do have a sort-of sixth sense.
“Meteorological cues are a big factor. Animals are much more in tune to their senses than we are,” said Jungheim.
At least 47,000 people died in the 2004 tsunami in India and Sri Lanka, according to the U.S Geological Survey. More than 200,000 died in 13 different countries. However, the disaster appeared to kill virtually no wild animals, according to National Geographic.
Witnesses said they saw wild elephants running from the beach an hour before the tidal wave hit.
“They have a hearing range way greater than ours,” said Jungheim.
Researchers speculate that animals might have heard the start of the massive tidal wave, way before the water started slamming into the shore.
Researchers report seeing a similar weather-detection ability in birds, bees, and sharks. Sometimes it’s super-hearing, other times it’s an enhanced sense of smell.
But often behavior that seems linked to weather is actually linked to a biological clock, according to Jungheim.
Bears know winter’s coming and it’s time to hibernate without a calendar. But although much about hibernation is a mystery, many researchers think the trigger has to do with reaching a level of stored body fat. Still, the bears need to know when to start storing up fat.
Speaking of storing, squirrels also seem to sense when it’s the right time to start hiding the acorns, before the ground freezes.
“A lot has to do with the photo period. As days get shorter, they have this sense of urgency, ‘we need to get going, we need to get going,’” said Jungheim.
Some researchers think animals can smell the ozone that arrives before a storm. They detect a drop in barometric pressure more acutely than we do.
“We get to turn on the TV and watch [the forecast] on the news,” said Jungheim, suggesting that animals needed to develop a strong weather sense in order to survive.