The Solar Eclipse and our Local Wildlife

 The Solar Eclipse  and our Local Wildlife

By Terri Estes

On Monday, April 8, 2024, a solar eclipse will occur in our area. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, blocking all or part of the sun’s light. This is a rare occurrence. The next solar eclipse will not happen in the U.S. again until 2044.

We as humans can understand this natural phenomenon and many of us are looking forward to experiencing it. But how will it affect animals? Studies have shown that dogs and cats do not generally react to solar eclipses. However, it is possible that some of our pets may become confused or disoriented in the sudden change of light, especially if they are outside during the eclipse. Overall, most domestic animals can adjust to these temporary disruptions easily.

Wild animals tend to have more overt responses to eclipses than our domestic companions. Nocturnal animals like crickets and frogs, may start to chirp as the sky darkens. Owls and bats may become more active during the eclipse. Researchers have observed bees behaving like it was nighttime during an eclipse, even though there was enough light for them to see. But according to scientists, anyone who has been outdoors during an eclipse notices two things, the eerie light and the sudden silencing of birds and insects.

In 2017 a group of researchers used radar to see just what birds were doing during the eclipse, a project they are expanding during this coming eclipse. Using 143 weather radar stations, they watched the behavior of many types of birds. Large raptors such as hawks and turkey vultures that soar high in the sky, tended to go to roost. Birds that forage for insects during flight such as marlins and swallows also left the sky. The study showed huge clouds of birds that were flocked together in the sky swoop down to the surface in numbers so large it showed up clearly on radar scans. This year, researchers plan on expanding the number of stations they will be monitoring across a much larger area of the country, from Texas to Maine.

Another study was done in a zoo in South Carolina during the 2017 eclipse. Researchers found that 76 percent of the animals they observed exhibited a change in behavior in response to the eclipse. Here are a few notable observations made during that study: Giraffes began running around their enclosure, only stopping when the sun came back. Gorillas all marched together to be let in for the evening and could not understand why the doors weren’t opening for them. All the adult flamingos circled around the juveniles and babies to form a protective barrier. And bears … well, bears couldn’t care less that an eclipse was happening and just went about their business of being bears.

Many more studies are planned during this coming eclipse. More than 30 national wildlife refuges are in the path of totality during this April 8 solar eclipse and scientists are eager to observe and gather more information. There is also a project called taking place for anyone interested in sharing their observations. This is a citizen science project that will let people across the country gather information about what wild, farm and domestic animals do during the solar eclipse. I know that I will be keeping my eye not only on the sky, but on my surroundings this coming Monday afternoon. HAPPY SOLAR ECLIPSE!


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