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7 Animals That Freak Out During Eclipses

When the sun or moon vanishes from the sky, it tends to weird out animals just as much as people.

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People aren’t the only ones buzzing about the coming eclipse — some of our animal friends have a long-documented habit of reacting strangely to celestial high jinks. As far back as the 1500s, solar eclipse observers noticed that some birds stopped singing, or even fell from the sky, during them. In the last century, scientists have recorded a wide variety of creatures reacting to eclipses. Here are some of the weirdest examples.

1. Dogs (and lots of birds) usually get scared, though cows don’t seem to notice.

In 1932, the impressively resourceful Boston Society of Natural History enlisted the entire countryside to observe animals during a total solar eclipse that lasted 10 minutes and swept across the Northeastern US.

The crowdsourced science compiled almost 500 observations of odd animal behavior during the eclipse. Many noticed crickets starting to sing their “night” song. Bees headed back to their hives “in a great rush,” while moths turned up. Chickens, pigeons, turkeys, and ducks trooped off for their coops, while seagulls largely headed back to rocky islets to roost.

About half of the dogs observed during the eclipse appeared frightened. A chow pup ran under a shed, for example, and wouldn’t come out.

“Unfortunately, very few observations were sent into the Eclipse Committee describing the effect that the darkness or sudden change of temperature had on plants,” the group lamented. Two flowers were caught closing their petals during the darkness by observant New Englanders.

But one group of animals seems unmoved by eclipses: cows. A total solar eclipse in Europe on Aug. 11, 1999, for example, swathed 12 lactating Holstein–Friesian dairy cows in nighttime darkness for two minutes and “did not have a major affect on the grazing or ruminating behaviour of the cattle in this study.” Despite a reputation for stampeding, these stone-cold cattle kept happily eating away, and chewing on their cud, for the duration of the event.

Overall, none of the scientists reported signs that animals had any inkling an eclipse was coming — a bit of urban folklore that the 1932 New England effort sought specifically to investigate. So don’t look to your pup for a hint on the eclipse starting — although you might want to look for him under the bed once it starts.

2. Tropical bats fly more.

Tropical bats hunt with sonar rather than by sight, but they still restrict their flights on nights with full moons. A total lunar eclipse that blotted out the full moon on March 13, 1979, in India sent tropical bats into a flying frenzy. Scientists there detected five times as many bats flying over their campus, peaking at the height of a three-hour dimming of the moon.

A follow-up study at the same university in 2002 found that fruit bat visits to a grape orchard more than doubled during a lunar eclipse.

3. Owl monkeys go into hiding.

Argentinian owl monkeys forage at dawn, dusk, and also by moonlight. Three total lunar eclipses recorded in Argentina in 2003 and 2004 were enough to send a troop of owl monkeys, fitted with tracking collars, into hiding on the ground during pitch-dark periods.

4. The ocean’s tiny critters, zooplankton, will hang out at the water’s surface.

Northern krill — tiny shrimp-like critters that whales feast on in the North Atlantic — like to rise to the surface at night to eat. As soon as the moon rises they return to depths of more than 240 feet.

That's unless a lunar eclipse happens, as British Antarctic Survey researchers observed on Sept. 16, 1997. Because the full moon was completely obscured, the krill lingered for two hours on the ocean surface until the shadow moved fully off the moon. Total solar eclipses — when the moon completely covers the face of the sun — have similar effects on plankton, as well as on the larvae of shrimp, barnacles, and clams, according to a paper looking at a 1973 eclipse that passed over the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa.

5. Red-fronted lemurs freeze in place.

Found only on Madagascar, these 5-pound primates forage for leaves and fruit at night. During full moon nights, they’ll usually travel farther to eat — unless there is a lunar eclipse. As Italian researchers reported in 2001, the eclipse “caused abrupt cessation of the animal’s activity” for three hours. The poor guys basically froze in place during the eclipse.

6. Orb-weaver spiders destroy their webs.

These spiders dutifully build their webs at dawn and take them down at dusk every day. They reacted to a July 11, 1991, total solar eclipse in Mexico by frantically disassembling their webs as soon as the total coverage of the sun began.

After the 10 minutes of daytime darkness ended, they built the webs back up. As a bonus, the observations answered a mystery as to which spiders get the best places to catch bugs when the colony sets up its webs every day. After the eclipse ended, the scientists watched the biggest ones, pregnant female spiders, bully the smaller ones to snag the best places.

7. Chimps try to get a good view.

Our closest genetic cousins certainly notice eclipses too, climbing to high places to watch the sky, according to scientific reports. During a 1984 “annular” solar eclipse — when the moon covers the disc of the sun but leaves a “ring of fire” visible in the sky — scientists witnessed a troop of chimps carefully observing the event.

Female chimps with infants noticed first, climbing tall structures to watch the unusual solar eclipse “One juvenile stood upright and gestured in the direction of the sun and moon” at the height of the eclipse, according to the study.

Much like people, they climbed down from the excitement when it was over, and went on like nothing much had happened.


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Dan Vergano is a science reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Dan Vergano at dan.vergano@buzzfeed.com.

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