Do Animals Have Things Figured Out?

Various creatures, confronted with approaching natural disaster, are able to satisfy their basic, innate drive to survive such catastrophes. Many species have developed effective ways to deal with hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and tornadoes. Wolf experts say,

When wolves first smell smoke, they’ll gather together. They’ll howl for each other to locate every member of the pack, and then they’ll stay close to each other in order to protect each other. They’ll patrol their territory to figure out where the threat of fire is coming from.

In the land bordering the Indian Ocean, prior to an underwater earthquake, elephants and flamingos fled for higher ground. In Thailand, a herd of buffalo near the beach pricked up their ears, looked out to sea, and then stampeded to the top of a hill. Cows, goats, cats, and birds also knew, somehow, to move inland.

Even in 373 BC, Thucydides reported that rats, dogs, weasels, and snakes deserted the city of Helice days before a huge earthquake. In 1805 in Italy, sheep, dogs and geese knew something was up, shortly pre-earthquake. Toads deserted their mating grounds. In Sicily, goats knew to flee the area in advance of a violent volcanic eruption, and just before the 1906 San Francisco quake, horses ran away.

In China, a quake alert system depends on snakes, who will move out of their nests even when the cold would normally encourage them to stay in their cozy homes. In 2014, birds in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee abandoned their breeding ground just before 80 tornadoes hit the area. A large French project studies migratory birds who avoid storms over the Pacific.

Even bugs have agendas

When a fire sweeps through an area, some insects rush to arrive on the scene while the trees are still actively burning. Are they nuts, reacting to a threat in such an inappropriate, out-of-contest manner? Absolutely not, because the best place to lay their eggs is in freshly burned wood, so they exploit and capitalize on the devastation by crowding out competitors for the enviable nursery spots, which works out splendidly for them.

Consider the lowly thatch ant (or thatching ant), Formica obscuripes. When starting a new colony, they will claim an open area of ground and establish, under a piece of wood or a stone, a nest that then grows both upward and downward. They build a mound from plant debris, and are very adaptable in the materials they use and how big they decide to make the mounds. They are also gangster enough to take over others’ territory:

These ants are temporary social parasites of Formica fusca-group species, including Formica pacifica. New colonies are established when an inseminated F. obscuripes queen enters the nest of a Formica fusca-group species and is accepted by the host workers. The host queen is eventually killed or driven off, and the host workers raise the brood of the invading queen. Eventually, only F. obscuripes workers remain as the original host workers die off.

But rather than repelling all visitors, they will also, for reasons best known to themselves, accept different kinds of insects as housemates — probably because the guests perform useful functions for the community that humans do not completely understand.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “What does wildlife do during natural disasters?,”, 03/17/21
Source: “The animals that detect disasters,”, 02/02/22
Source: “The attraction of insects to forest fires,”, 1972
Source: “Formica obscuripes,”, undated
Image by Shan Sheehan/CC BY-ND 2.0

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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