Scientists and amateur astronomers are abuzz with excitement about next week’s solar eclipse, and venues within the path of totality—where the moon will completely cover the sun—have been booked for a year or more. The August 21st event will be the first of its kind visible in the US since 1979, and won’t happen again until 2023. And while this time around most spectators will be looking up, those of us here in horse country, where nearly 90% of the sun will disappear, may be looking around and wondering—how in the heck are my crazy animals going to react? Scientists have been asking the same question for decades, and are only just beginning to find answers. Here’s what we know, and what you may be able to expect this Monday when the sun goes dark.
There’s not a lot of reliable science on the subject of animal reactions to eclipses, but fortunately, humans have been observing recording eclipses for thousands of years, both their effects on the sky and the environment here on earth. Records from a 1544 eclipse state that during the few minutes of darkness, the birds stopped singing; about 15 years later, another manuscript noted that birds dropped to the ground. A more recent and scientific study in New England in 1932 reported that several species of animals observed instantly shifted from their daytime routines into nighttime ones. Crickets began chirping, frogs began croaking, and chickens calmly returned to roost. In 1991, orb weaver spiders, who take down their webs every night and rebuild them every morning, frantically destroyed their webs and rebuilt them only a few minutes later when the sunlight returned.
But what about animals more common to Ocala residents like horses, cows, and dogs? Most available data points to them just wanting to go to sleep. During eclipses, horses, cows, and other livestock have been observed grazing as the light dims—just as they would at twilight—and then attempting to return to the barn for the “night.” Pets like cats and dogs don’t notice much, but sometimes act more subdued and a little confused after the darkness passes. Those who care for birds may want to be a bit more vigilant however, as birds seem to be one of the animals most strongly effected by eclipses.
All in all, most experts stress not to worry. Animals are smarter than we give them credit for, and will be able to take care of themselves for the two or so minutes that the eclipse is at its darkest. If you have individual animals who are particularly nervous or upset by changes in routine, you can probably expect them to react just as they would if there were a thunderstorm or similar disturbance in the area. You can also help scientists understand more about animal behavior during eclipses by downloading California Academy of Sciences iNaturalist app and report how your pets respond to Monday’s eclipse. And if you’re out observing the sun, remember: eclipse glasses on!
An eclipse isn’t the only natural phenomenon that could effect your horses. Click here for helpful tips on how to keep both your farm and your horses safe during hurricane season.
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