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Frogs got nothing to croak about as they trail newts in weather forecast contest

Two Japanese fire belly newts are seen out of the water, predicting rain, in their tank at Toba Aquarium on June 10, 2019, in Toba, Mie Prefecture. (Mainichi/Kazushige Hayashi)

TOBA, Mie -- Will it be sunny or rainy tomorrow? For the frogs and newts at Toba Aquarium here, the question is serious business as they go snout-to-snout in the "Weather forecast water tank" contest for the first time in six years.

According to results so far taken from June 1 to 10, the newts have had cause to look even smugger than usual as they enjoy an accuracy rate of 77%, a towering victory over the frogs. But with the contest set to go on until the end of August, it awaits to be seen which side will win this marathon summer forecasting session.

Frogs and newts are both highly sensitive to humidity levels, and said to act based on their feeling for how the climate will be in the near future. Using this trait, the aquarium has placed 10 Japanese tree frogs and 10 Japanese fire belly newts into separate tanks for staff to observe twice a day, once before midday and once after. Weather predictions for both the next day and half-day periods are written up as per their positions when observed, with the amphibious teams competing to score a higher rate of accurate forecasts.

If the frogs open their eyes, climb a tree and make active motions, then according to them it's going to rain. If they stay still, it'll be sunny. For the newts, staying in water means the weather should be clear. If they come up to land, they reckon it'll rain. Depending on the ratio of the amphibians in either position, it can also mean they expect cloudy skies.

Japanese tree frogs are seen getting comfortable on a tree, predicting rain, in their tank at Toba Aquarium on June 10, 2019, in Toba, Mie Prefecture. (Mainichi/Kazushige Hayashi)

After comparing 10 days of amphibian predictions against the way the weather actually turned out, the frogs had frog spawn all over their faces with a success rate of only 33% for next-day forecasts, and an even lower score of 11% for half-day ones. By contrast, the newts scored an indisputable win with next-day scores of 77% and 44% for half-days.

At the same time, staff members at the aquarium have been playing their hand too by employing the traditional practice of throwing wooden sandals, known as "geta" in Japanese, to divine tomorrow's chances of rain or sun based on how the footwear lands. Unfortunately, it's putting them in dead last with a 22% success rate.

A representative at the aquarium said, "The weather prediction abilities of living creatures can often be inaccurate, but I hope that by conveying to visitors the fascination that comes with observing these animals close up, we can help young people with things like finding independent study subjects for school summer vacation."

The newt and frog weather forecast competition was first held in 2006, running until 2013. The aquarium decided to revive the practice after receiving numerous queries about it. Along with the contest, a board explaining the composition of the amphibians' skin, their relationship with the weather and other points has been compiled and installed.

(Japanese original by Kazushige Hayashi, Toba Resident Bureau)

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