Do animals freak out during a total solar eclipse? Help scientists find out on Aug. 21

Written by on August 21, 2017 in Rare Critters - No comments

It’s considered one of nature’s most amazing events.

And, when a total solar eclipse passes over the continental United States on Monday for the first time in 38 years, scientists want you to pause at the spectacle and watch how the animals around you react.

“It has been reported during many eclipses that many different animals are startled by totality and change their behavior thinking that twilight has arrived,” according to NASA. “You can explore this yourself with your own pets, or by watching local wildlife, especially birds.”

Indeed, it turns out, animals stop to watch, and freak out a little, too.

Solar eclipses occur when the moon moves between the Earth and the sun.

On Aug. 21, the path of totality will track over the United States. Totality, or maximum coverage, will last a maximum of 2 minutes and 40.2 seconds, when complete darkness will descend during the daytime.

People all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico will be able to see at least a partial eclipse.

Total solar eclipse over North America on Aug. 21/Map by NASA

And, researchers want you to report what you see happening to the wildlife – or pets – around you.

The California Academy of Sciences says there is some evidence animals react to the environmental changes that occur during a total solar eclipse.

“As the sky darkens and the temperature drops, birds reportedly stop singing, spiders may tear down their webs, and gray squirrels retreat to their dens, among other observed behaviors. Much of these reports, however, are anecdotal or documented with captive animals,” according to the academy.T

The academy wants “citizen scientists” to record eclipse-related animal activity with the iNaturalist app.

So, how can you help when day turns to night?

The best way to do this is to pick the animal (or animals) you plan to observe. Many zoos in the path of the eclipse are hosting events where you can make your observations.

Then, note how they are acting 30 minutes before totality, during the five minutes of maximum coverage and then again half an hour after totality.

Here’s a tally of some wild stuff in the past.

National Geographic said Italian monk Ristoro d’Arezzo described weird animal activity during the June 3, 1239 solar eclipse by writing, “all the animals and birds were terrified; and the wild beasts could easily be caught.”

According to Science News, during 1544 total solar eclipse “birds ceased singing.” In 1560, another eclipse included reports of birds falling to the ground.

The Boston Society of Natural History also tried to account for behavioural changes in 1932, noting swarming mosquitoes and bees retreating to their hives. In later decades, people reported spiders taking down their webs and captive chimpanzees climbing high to watch the phenomenon.

“There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence for how animals and even plants respond to totality,” Elise Ricard, spokesperson for the academy’s eclipse project, Life Responds, told Science News. “But [there’s] not a lot of hard science.”

Want the best viewing location?

Here are some tips from Astronomy Magazine.

Main photo California Academy of Sciences

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