Unlocking the mysteries of animal behavior during cosmic events
Does my dog need solar eclipse glasses?
Oct 3, 2023
When a solar eclipse occurs, the behavior of animals may seem a bit out of this world. But why do they change their patterns?
To unlock the mysteries of animal behavior during the solar eclipse Oct. 14, 2023, and the total solar eclipse April 4, 2024, we talked to Liz Aguilar, a Ph.D. student in biology in Indiana University’s Evolution, Ecology and Behavior program.
Unlike those of us who use clocks to tell time and can just turn on the lights when it gets dark outside, animals can’t alter their environment. They take their behavioral cues from nature, so the darkening sky and cooler temperatures during a solar eclipse can signal that it’s nighttime even if the event occurs in the middle of the day.
“As we go through the phases of an eclipse, there are changes in light,” Aguilar said. “There will probably be a ‘twilight zone’ of around 30 minutes before we reach totality during the eclipse in April of next year.”
During the “twilight zone,” temperatures, light and wind will fluctuate, and these environmental shifts can initiate reactions from animals.
“The biggest response we’ll see is the onset of evening patterns,” Aguilar said.
For nocturnal animals, they may think it’s time for their evening activities to begin. Animals like opossums, bats and owls may emerge from their daytime resting places. Crickets, whippoorwills and frogs might begin their evening chorus of chirps and songs.
For diurnal animals, the eclipse could signal that it’s bedtime. So birds might fly into trees and chickens might settle into their coops to roost for the night. Bees could return to their hives, and barnyard animals like horses and cows may start moving toward their stables.
Even exotic animals may respond to the changing cosmic patterns. Aguilar said there are case examples from zoos where baboons were seen huddling together and remaining highly vigilant during an eclipse, while giraffes and elephants began approaching the entrance of their enclosures.
The environmental changes from an eclipse can also influence pet behavior. Dogs who get anxious during storms may associate the sudden loss of sunlight with adverse weather.
Although animals may behave a bit differently during an eclipse, they aren’t likely to be harmed by looking up at it.
“It’s very unlikely that your pet will look at the sun, so you don’t need to rush out and get eclipse glasses for your dog,” Aguilar said.
Eye damage for animals from a solar eclipse is a minor concern compared to the need to support anxious pets who think a storm is approaching. During an eclipse, Aguilar suggests keeping Fido at home, where he’s most comfortable, or leashing him in case he wants to run or is fearful.
Partial and total eclipses are rare, so while an understanding of animal behavior can help us predict how they will respond, Aguilar said published research on the topic is a bit sparse. Observations and data collected from citizen scientists during the 2017 eclipse have increased our knowledge of these stellar events’ impact on animals, but more research is needed.
When it comes to the upcoming partial and total eclipses, Aguilar encourages people to get involved in supporting research on animal behavior.
“Look for citizen science opportunities so we can learn even more,” she said.