"There are many more scientific papers about Sasquatch than about animal behavior during an eclipse," said Adam Hartstone-Rose, adjunct scientist at the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia, South Carolina.
The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga has plans to watch its lemurs carefully. There is evidence from past eclipses that lemurs "behave oddly during these events," according to Thom Benson, the aquarium's director of external affairs. The Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago is betting something could happen with its collection of chimps, which it will be watching closely.
The director at the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden predicts that its animals may display subtle change. "We don't think we will see the giraffes doing back flips that day," said Ed Diebold, Riverbanks' director of animal collections and conservation. "We are curious, though, to see what will happen."
Whatever change they experience, Diebold and his team will be ready. Hartstone-Rose and his scientists, along with the keepers who know the animals best, and the public who will be given surveys to record their observations will all be ready. If they see anything, they hope to include these data in a research paper. The experts there will likely concentrate on the primates, the elephants, the giraffes, the birds and the reptiles, most of which have demonstrated interesting behavior in prior eclipse events.
"There are interesting philosophical questions too, because we don't know how to tell when a giraffe perceives the sun, but we know they are affected by this," Hartstone-Rose said. He thinks that if some of the more vocal animals get anxious, they'll start making more noise. Some animals may prepare for bed, others may wake up, but not all animals will care.
"Giraffes, for instance, don't have a lot of reason to look up, because there are no predators for them that come from above, so the staff feels there won't be enormous changes there, but there may be with others, and hopefully we can tease the changes out."
Scientists have been watching animal behavior during eclipses for centuries, although the reliability of some accounts may be more believable than others. In the 1500s, an astronomer noted that birds fell out of trees and stopped singing. Keep in mind, scientists in that era also thought leeches were a cure for many ailments too, so no, you don't have to skip lunch outside to avoid the falling pigeons.
In the Victorian era, a scientist noted that ants that were "busily carrying their burdens, stopped and remained motionless till the light reappeared." And in the more recent era, scientists during a 1997 solar eclipse in Mexico noticed that lizards also seemed to react and perform the same activities as they would during sunset, but that may be a little harder to observe, since they buried themselves below the soil making up their little lizard beds.
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As far as your pets, you can watch them, but don't count on a viral video. Studies have shown more mixed results. 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: