Quirks & Quarks

Elephants Predict Rain from 300 Kilometres Away

Low frequency hearing allows elephants to detect thunderstorms over very long distances.
Elephants in Namibia possibly listening for the rain. (Copyright Greg Willis, cc-by-sa-2.0)

We know that elephants have big ears for a reason: they have incredible hearing to go along with their well-documented communication skills. But a new study by Dr. Michael Garstand, a Professor of Meteorology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, found that their ability to detect sound is even more amazing than previously thought. Elephants communicate using frequencies much lower than what humans can hear - their low range is between 20 and 10 cycles per second. Turning anecdotal evidence from tribesmen in Namibia into scientific fact, researchers found that elephants can hear the low frequency of thunderstorms from as far away as 300 kilometres. The elephants then move from dry areas to places where the rains will come and provide fresh vegetation. This explains sudden migrations and behavioural changes that have been observed over the years. 

Related Links

- Paper in PLOS One
- Texas A&M University release
- Popular Science story
- Discovery News story