By Karin Krisher
Grandpa’s rocking in his chair on the porch when he spits out a sudden, matter-of-fact weather prediction: “Feels like rain.”
The sun’s shining and you’re sipping lemonade, and the cows are lying down in the field in the distance. Wait a minute….
The clouds start to roll in. The air gets a bit warmer and the thunder starts. You ditch your lemonade and slam the screen door.
How did he know?
It turns out that the cows lying in the field and grandpa’s mysterious prediction might have an explanation. In both humans and other mammals, joint pain can actually predict the weather.
According to Science Daily, “The joints contain sensory nerves called baro-receptors which respond to changes in atmospheric pressure. These receptors especially react when there is low barometric pressure, meaning the atmosphere has gone from dry to moist, like when it is going to rain.”
Synovial fluid surrounds the joint, and when atmospheric pressure changes, the pressure of that fluid might change with it. When an individual has less viscous synovial fluid or less cartilage, as in the case of those with rheumatoid arthritis, sensitivity to that pressure may be increased, causing pain and ultimately, that mysterious weather “prediction,” which seems to be more of a response. These types of responses are also common amongst people with damaged teeth or compromised bone health.
It’s a well-known Vermont tale that cows lay down or gather in a huddle before rain. Some say this is due to barometric pressure’s effect on the digestive system of cows. Others note that the cows probably want to keep their food dry, and lie down to protect some grass. Still others believe that the cows’ joints, like humans’, are affected, making it difficult to stand. Unfortunately, this tale lacks the funding for ample examination, but Urban Dictionary still gives its definition credence with its own term for the phenomena: cow-lying.
Other weather extremes, like earthquakes or hurricanes, also cause strange mammalian reactions.
“In 2003, a Japanese researcher…connecting dog-related complaints (for excessive barking, biting, etc.) with the magnitude-7.2 Kobe earthquake in 1995… found from public records that complaints in parts of Japan affected by the quake rose by about 18% during the two months before and after the quake. On the island right above the epicenter, complaints were up 60% in the month before the quake compared with the same month a year before.” (LATimes)
Aside from acting as weather predictors, other mammals are often said to have a sixth sense which most humans lack. Stories of canine ghost encounters abound, and of course, there’s the far-reaching concept that dogs have the potential to detect cancer and even the AIDS virus with their noses. (In a study published in January 2011, one Labrador demonstrated 95% accuracy in detecting colon cancer.)
These abilities might not be sixth senses, and instead just be the manifestation of extremely adept function of the general five senses. Even joint pain during bad weather could be an advanced type of “touch” response. Whatever the causes of these interesting behaviors in dogs, cats, humans, sheep, cows—and many other animals, we can certainly glean some usefulness from their prediction-like properties.
Next time Grandpa tells you it’s going to rain, just grab your lemonade and run. He knows what he’s talking about.
And so do the cows.