© 2023 Cincinnati Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Show or science? How animals 'predict' stuff like the Super Bowl and weather

 Fiona picks the Bengals to win the Super Bowl. The Rams toy wasn't nearly as big or as enticing says the Zoo.
Cincinnati Zoo
Fiona picks the Bengals to win the Super Bowl. The Rams toy wasn't nearly as big or as enticing, says the zoo.

A recent analysis of the accuracy of Punxsutawney Phil got WVXU wondering about other animals, realizing some — like the recent Fiona prediction — are set-ups.

The Cincinnati Zoo admits it stacked the deck when “letting” Fiona the famous hippo pick the Super Bowl winner, because — why not?

“This year we did not try to be impartial," the zoo’s Michelle Curley jokes."We made the Bengals toy much larger than the Rams toy and we put a lot more treats around it."

Hippo Fiona Picks the Bengals to Win - Cincinnati Zoo

But other years when Cincinnati doesn’t have as much skin in the game, “We give each team equal opportunity," she says.

But there isn’t any serious coaching by zoo staff. Look at the owl in 2019 as it gives thoughtful consideration to whether it will be the Patriots or the Rams.

Superb Owl Predicts Winner - Cincinnati Zoo

“One year we had an interesting pick with the King Penguins," explains Curley. “The penguins do a parade and we set up a banner for the Seahawks and a banner for the Patriots and this video went viral because several of the penguins walked under the Seahawks banner and one was going for the Patriots but then changed it’s mind, backed up and went to the Seahawks.”

Penguins Pick Seahawks - Cincinnati Zoo

The Patriots won that year.

Other animals have also weighed in. In 2017, the cheetahs were more interested in playing with the football and didn’t make a prediction. The Komodo dragon made a pick in 2016 and he might resurface this year. His name is Hudo and guess what that sounds like? Who Dey, of course.

Let’s get to the real science

The data and politics website FiveThirtyEight delves into numbers and reporter Kaleigh Rogers wondered how accurate Punxsutawney Phil was at predicting spring on Groundhog Day.

She and her team used statistics from Phil and compared it to climate data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) from 1994-2021.

“We were really generous about what an early spring was," she says. "We defined it as any year in which the average temperature for February and March was higher than the historical average, even if it was only one degree higher.”

Anything else would be a “long winter.” When Phil’s prediction lined up with the NOAA information he would be “correct.”

So how accurate was Phil?

Rogers says Phil is only correct about 36% of the time. To give him the benefit of the doubt, FiveThirtyEight split up the country into regions, and while Phil was 50% right in the Southwest and South, he was only 39% accurate in his home state of Pennsylvania.

Ohio’s Buckeye Chuck bested Phil. Chuck, along with Georgia’s General Beauregard Lee and Wisconsin’s Jimmy the Groundhog got it right more than most. Also in the mix are a couple of prairie dogs and a frog FiveThirtyEight studied.

“So there is one prognosticator, Mojave Maxine in Palm Desert, California, and the way she does it," Rogers explains, “is just whenever she comes out of her animal brumation, which is like her version of hibernation, the local zoo calls it the first day of spring and that might have some science behind it.”

That's because Maxine is relying on her internal clock.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.