How will pets, wildlife react to the eclipse?

Friday , August 18, 2017 - 12:00 AM

LEIA LARSEN, Standard-Examiner Staff

While we’re already anticipating the effects August’s solar eclipse will have on humans — traffic jams in Idaho and mad dashes for protective eyewear, for example — what effects do biologists expect it to have on animals?

The moon will almost entirely blot out the sun for a few minutes in Northern Utah, but the Utah Division of Wildlife makes the impacts sound benign. 

“We don't anticipate any biological impacts to wildlife, but during the eclipse, birds might stop chirping for a few minutes,” said DWR spokesman Mark Hadley after consulting with Salt Lake wildlife section chief Bill Bates. “Also, we're not doing any special studies related to the eclipse.”

Astronomy aficionados from other parts of the planet, however, report a little more animal action, particularly in the path of totality. 


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 Eclipse photographer Peter den Hartog told National Geographic he observed increased activity from bats and certain bird species during Hungary’s total eclipse in 1999, although he couldn’t say whether it was due to the low light or the amount of insects that emerged.

NASA posted a video featuring astronomer Doug Duncan discussing how “animals freak out the same way people do” during a total eclipse. During an eclipse in Boliva, Duncan watched a herd of llamas gather to watch the astronomical phenomenon with him. At another eclipse near the Galapagos, he saw dozens of whales and dolphins surface minutes before totality. 

Still, our understanding of animal behavior during eclipses is limited. Scientific agencies like NASA and the California Academy of Sciences are encouraging citizens science projects, asking eclipse chasers to watch pets or wildlife during the upcoming eclipse and report how they respond.

“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 California Academy of Sciences website.

The academy has developed a smartphone app to record their observations through a project called “Life Responds.”

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or llarsen@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook.com/leiainthefield or on Twitter @LeiaLarsen.  

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