How will animals handle the solar eclipse?

On Monday, Aug. 21, much of the U.S. is going to go dark during the afternoon when the moon passes in front of the sun; the first total solar eclipse visible in the continental states in nearly 40 years.

(For those of you in South America, Africa and Europe, you may be able to see a partial eclipse depending on where you are, so get pumped for that.)

We can predict that the day will involve many excited people watching outside, wearing funny eye-protecting glasses and attending eclipse-themed parties, but how will animals react?

It’s hard for scientists to track animal behavior during total eclipses. The celestial phenomenon doesn’t happen often.

“The reality is that because of the infrequency of solar eclipses, and because when it does happen, it is usually not in the same place, it is very hard to have actual scientific findings,” said animal behavior expert Rick Schwartz in a recent article.

Schwartz, who is with the San Diego Zoo, mentions some reports of animal reactions to the sudden disappearance of the sun. “In total solar eclipses, there are observations of animals going to sleep,” he said. “The animals take the visual cues of the light dimming, and the temperature cues.”

The changes might disrupt some animals’ schedules, making them want to eat or sleep at a different time from usual. This behavior might be noted in the zoos, on the farm, or even all around you — if you live in an eclipse area, take note during the event of any changes in bird or insect noise.

Other reports suggest that animals may become more aggressive or erratic during eclipses. Schwartz acknowledges that anecdotal evidence of animal behavior, both mild and extreme, is not much for scientists to go off of.

“There have been observations at other zoos that animals didn’t react, which is also something to be noted,” he said.

Schwartz also said that house pets probably would not react strongly. “Domestic animals that live with humans — their cues come from our behavior,” he said.

Edward Guinan, an astronomy and astrophysics professor from Villanova University in Pennsylvania, suggested that it may not be heavenly bodies that upset the pups.

“I do not expect unusual behavior — like pets going crazy — unless their owners get really excited during totality,” he told Pet MD. “Many eclipse observers get so excited that they scream and shout with joy when the total phase happens. Total eclipses are amazing. This human behavior could disturb pets.”

Pets don’t normally try to look at the sun, and are unlikely to be hurt by the eclipse for that reason. To play it safe, however, many pet owners are going to leave their animals inside with the blinds closed until the sky returns to normal.

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