On Monday, August 21, people will be watching the skies, especially in areas like Casper, Wyoming (where I live) as a total solar eclipse appears. Those of us who enjoy animals may wonder what pets and other creatures will do in response to the eclipse.
Most of us know animals respond to natural phenomenon, such as earthquakes. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, animals seem to sense the onslaught of an earthquake. And, many pet owners know their dogs become anxious during thunderstorms.
According to a report from National Geographic and other sources, animal behavior during an eclipse is not well documented due to the rarity of such an event. However, the organization reports that in other eclipses, “Dairy cows return to the barn, crickets begin chirping, birds either go to roost or become more active, and whales breach in the seas.”
During the upcoming eclipse, an ecologist at the California Academy of Sciences, Rebecca Johnson, is seeking to improve the scientific record regarding animal behavior and solar eclipses. She has helped create the Life Responds project, which runs on a SmartPhone app called iNaturalist. The Nat Geo article states, “Her team of biologists and astronomers will use the app to collect data from the millions of people who will witness the eclipse on August 21. The hope is that the Life Responds app will create a meaningful clearinghouse for animal behavior during eclipses that scientists can use to advance their research.”
Staff and volunteers at zoos across the country will also be observing behaviors of the animals living in these facilities. An article from CNN states that the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga plans to carefully observe its lemurs. “There is evidence from past eclipses that lemurs ‘behave oddly during these events,’ according to Thom Benson, the aquarium's director of external affairs.” Additionally, Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo “is betting something could happen with its collection of chimps, which it will be watching closely.”
Watch a video on NASA’s website about llamas’ and whale responses to past eclipses: Video about llamas and marine mammals: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/animals-total-eclipse.
As far as our pets, we may or may not observe and/or hear much of anything. The CNN article goes on to say, “A study from the 1970s found that pet rabbits mostly slept. A few caged birds got agitated. Some dogs ignored the eclipse; a few seemed scared; a few barked when it was over. Cats, well, cats were cats. Some played, some meowed, but for the most part they slept, again showing off their best quality, as anyone who owns a cat knows: Our feline friends think the sun and the moon revolve around them, so what's the big deal about a little more shade?”
Another article, published on Quartz, quotes Bryant Buchanan, a biologist who studies nocturnal animals at Utica College in New York: “Then, of course, as light levels increase any dusk activated genetic activity will move into daylight genetic activity. It’s hard to imagine that the eclipse would have much more of an effect than temporary confusion.”
So, how will the animals around us, including our pets, respond to Monday’s solar eclipse? Perhaps those of us observing the sky can also take a bit of time to watch and listen to nature and our pets and participate in the Life Responds project, becoming scientists in our own communities, adding to the public knowledge.
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.