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Throughout history, people have believed that animals can make predictions about human fate. The results are often disappointing, but that hasn't stopped us from turning to them time and time again.
And why not? Animals can do many things that we can't — like fly and live underwater.
So why not assume that they can see into the future too?
Legend has it that if a groundhog sees his shadow on the morning of February 2, winter will last six more weeks. Spoilsport scientists say he's no more accurate than your local weatherman: An analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that, from 1988 to 2010, there was no correlation between the groundhog's prediction and the weather for the rest of the season.
But one thing that the groundhog's appearance does predict is a boon in tourism: 30,000 folks are expected to visit Punxsutawney, Pa., to see the most famous groundhog named Phil make his weather forecast this year. While we wait to see if his prediction is correct, here's a look at some other prescient animals of the domestic, farm-dwelling and even aquatic variety.
The groundhog isn't the only animal who can make a prediction about the weather — and tourism. The woollybear caterpillar is striped brown and black, and, according to folklore, if the brown stripe is thick, winter will be severe; if it's thin, the season will be mild. Party-pooper insect experts disagree and say that the variation in the brown bands has nothing to do with the weather — they're just bigger on older caterpillars. But that doesn't bother the more than 100,000 people who attend the Woollybear Festival in Vermillion, Ohio, each fall to enjoy entertainment that includes caterpillar races.
Cultures all over the world believe that animals can tell when tremors are coming. These tales go as far back as 373 B.C., when it's said that all animals — rats, snakes, and even worms and beetles — left the Greek city of Helice five days before it was destroyed by a quake.
In Japan, there's a tradition that claims catfish can predict the shaking of the earth. Scientists testing this legend spent 16 years recording the behavior of a tank of catfish in Tokyo and then compared the data with records of seismic activity. The fish did become more active several days before a quake — but it turned out that they were actually too sensitive to be useful predictors because the fish reacted to shallow quakes as well as dangerous ones that would call for an actual warning.
The groundhog may not be any more accurate than your local weatherman, but there's a cat in Rhode Island who's better at knowing when someone is going to die than some doctors. Oscar resides at a nursing home where, over the course of five years, he's correctly predicted 50 deaths. If Oscar curls up with a patient, staff knows to call the family. And this feline is firm in his opinions: He'll scratch at the door if he can't get in. In one case, nurses put him on a patient's bed, but he promptly left to sit with another resident. Oscar's pick passed away that evening.
Sure, predicting life and death is impressive, but what about something really important to people: sports. Paul, an octopus who lived at a German aquarium, correctly predicted the winner of eight athletic games, including the champs of the 2010 World Cup. He flagged his choice by selecting a mussel from one of two boxes decorated with the flags of the competing countries. Although he gained worldwide fame, some fans who didn't particularly care for his choices threatened to fry him up and serve him with sauce.
The life of an octopus is short, and Paul died just a few months after he stunned the world with his eerily correct predictions. But a sheep in New Zealand named Sonny Wool is already filling the void: He correctly predicted the winner of all his home team's matches in the 2011 Rugby World Cup. And like Paul, Sonny has found that being a psychic animal is a dangerous occupation — he was reportedly under 24-hour protection after receiving death threats over an incorrect prediction of a win for Ireland.
The psychic animal enterprise has also expanded to include politics. In 2010, a crocodile named Harry weighed in on the closest Australian election for prime minister in years. By choosing a chicken carcass decorated with a photo of the Labor Party's Julia Gillard, instead of one plastered with an image of her opponent, Harry correctly predicted Gillard's victory.
Finally, if you're wondering how the stock market is going to do, maybe you should turn to an animal. In a contest in South Korea, a parrot proved to be better than most humans at picking the stocks that would perform successfully. Her return on investment was 13.7 percent — better than all but two of the 10 human participants, who averaged a 4.6 percent loss.
Linda Lombardi is a former zookeeper, college professor and the author of Animals Behaving Badly, a new book that grew from her blog of the same name.
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