Many animals at the National Zoo in Washington sensed the rare 5.8 magnitude earthquake that shook the US east coast before it struck and began to behave strangely, zoo officials said.

The epicenter of the surprise quake was located in a small Virginia town 134 kilometers (84 miles) southwest of the US capital.

Despite the distance, the zoo's red-ruffed lemurs "sounded an alarm call about 15 minutes before the quake and then again just after it occurred," the zoo said in a statement Wednesday.

The zoo's flock of 64 flamingos rushed about and grouped themselves together just before the quake, then remained huddled as the earth shook.

About five to ten seconds before the quake, many of the zoo's apes, including an orangutan and a gorilla, "abandoned their food and climbed to the top of the tree-like structure in the exhibit."

Three seconds before the quake a female gorilla shrieked, collected her baby and also climbed the structure, while another orangutan "began 'belch vocalizing' -- an unhappy/upset noise normally reserved for extreme irritation -- before the quake and continued this vocalization following the quake."

The howler monkeys also "sounded an alarm call just after the earthquake."

When the quake struck, the zoo's snakes -- including copperheads, cotton mouth, and false water cobra -- began writhing. The zoo's Komodo dragon hid inside its shelter.

"All of these behaviors were atypical for that time of the day," Don Moore, the zoo's director of animal care, told CNN.

Of all the zoo animals, the giant pandas remained apparently oblivious.

"According to keepers, the giant pandas did not appear to respond to the earthquake," the zoo said.

Image credit: Flickr commons.