Chinese snakes do double duty as seismographs

Published 3 January 2007

Recent quakes in Taiwan show need for improved early warning systems; snakes are said to be capable of detecting seismic shaking days in advance; local snake farmers permit scientists to install IP video system; in exchange, famers get up to the minute data on the snake market

The homeland security managerie, which includes bomb-detecting bees and contaminant-detecting fish, made room this week for earthquake-detecting snakes. Chinese scientists in Nanning, having long noticed that snakes behave erratically in the days leading up to an earthquake — among other things, they smash their heads into walls — recently installed a comprehensive snake monitoring system. Experts at the Nanning earthquake bureau visited local snake farms and rigged up video cameras linked to a broadband internet connection. “By installing cameras over the snake nests, we have improved our ability to forecast earthquakes. The system could be extended to other parts of the country to make our earthquake forecasts more precise,” said bureau director Jiang Weisong.

This sounds like an interesting project, and we note also that it has benefits beyond mere public safety. In a letter to the central government seeking funds to build more snake-monitoring stations, Jiang pointed to an underappreciated economic benefit. “Local farmers have welcomed the cameras and broadband,” said Mr Jiang. “They can access information on the internet, such as techniques for raising snakes and demand for snakes in the market.” It should also be pointed out that dogs and chickens also behave abnormally when an earthquake is imminent. At least so far as the puppies are concerned, perhaps a similar system could be used at local animal shelters, with many dogs saved from euthenasia by putting their canine senses to work for the government.

-read more in Clifford Coonan’s Independant report