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Hop it... there's a quake coming

Many animals are believed to have a "sixth sense" about natural disasters, but new research suggests common toads really can sense a coming earthquake.

Researchers at the Open University studying toads in Italy, found 96pc of males abandoned a breeding site 46 miles (74km) from the epicentre of the earthquake that hit L'Aquila in 2009, five days before it struck.

The number of pairs at the site dropped to zero three days before the quake, according to the study, published in the Zoological Society of London's Journal of Zoology.

The scientists believe the toads could be able to detect environmental changes, such as the release of gases or charged particles from the ground, before seismic events.

The coming earthquake appears to have prompted them to break off from breeding and evacuate the site.

Dr Rachel Grant, who was studying the impact of the lunar cycle on the toads when the earthquake struck, said she was "very surprised" by the toads' unexpected disappearance.

"A day after the earthquake, they all started coming back. The numbers were still lower than normal and remained low until after the last aftershock," she said.