Big event for an­i­mal kingdom too

Dur­ing eclipse, birds are known to go quiet, crick­ets to chirp, whales to sur­face.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - DEB­O­RAH NET­BURN deb­o­rah.net­burn @la­times.com Twit­ter: @Deb­o­rahNet­burn

It’s not just hu­mans who will be af­fected by the “Great Amer­i­can Eclipse” com­ing on Aug. 21 — ex­pect an­i­mals to act strangely too.

Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence and a few sci­en­tific stud­ies sug­gest that as the moon moves briefly be­tween the sun and Earth, caus­ing a deep twi­light to fall across the land, large swaths of the an­i­mal kingdom will al­ter their be­hav­ior.

Eclipse chasers say they have seen song­birds go quiet, large farm an­i­mals lie down, crick­ets start to chirp and chick­ens be­gin to roost.

Elise Ri­card, public pro­grams su­per­vi­sor at the Cal­i­for­nia Academy of Sciences in San Fran­cisco, re­called the eerie si­lence that ac­com­pa­nied the start of a to­tal eclipse early on a June morn­ing in 2012.

“I was sit­ting on a beach with my back to the jungle, and if you know any­thing about jun­gles, they are not usu­ally quiet,” she said. “But to sud­denly hear all those noisy birds get quiet as the eclipse got close, that was a pow­er­ful sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Doug Dun­can, direc­tor of the Fiske Plan­e­tar­ium at the Univer­sity of Colorado, Boul­der, has had a few strange run-ins with an­i­mals over his many years of eclipse chasing.

He has seen a line of lla­mas gather to see a to­tal eclipse with him and his fel­low as­tronomers in Bo­livia.

When he was view­ing a dif­fer­ent eclipse from a boat near the Gala­pa­gos Is­lands, he saw dozens of whales and dol­phins swim to the sur­face of the ocean five min­utes be­fore the eclipse be­gan. They hung out there until five min­utes af­ter the eclipse, be­fore re­turn­ing to the wa­tery depths, he re­called.

To­tal­ity — the time when the face of the sun is fully cov­ered by the moon — lasts only a few min­utes, but sci­en­tists say it is still ca­pa­ble of af­fect­ing an­i­mals that use light cues to help them de­cide what to do and when.

“Cer­tain stim­uli can over­rule nor­mal be­hav­ior with­out af­fect­ing an an­i­mal’s daily phys­i­o­log­i­cal rhythms,” said Joanna Chiu, who stud­ies an­i­mal cir­ca­dian clocks at UC Davis. “It is not sur­pris­ing that the eclipse will tem­po­rar­ily af­fect an­i­mal be­hav­ior, but it is un­likely to af­fect their in­ter­nal clock or their be­hav­ior in the long run.”

Univer­sity of Toledo bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor El­liot Tramer re­ported that seabirds on the north coast of Venezuela were af­fected by a to­tal eclipse that passed through the area in 2008.

Brown pel­i­cans and frigate­birds that had been for­ag­ing over the wa­ter be­fore the eclipse left the bay 13 min­utes be­fore to­tal­ity and didn’t re­turn until 12 min­utes af­ter the so­lar disk was fully re­vealed.

He con­cluded that al­though to­tal so­lar eclipses are short, they can still in­ter­rupt nor­mal avian day­time be­hav­ior.

In an­other study pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Fish Bi­ol­ogy in 1998, a team of re­searchers found that fish also re­spond to changes in light dur­ing an eclipse.

Af­ter ob­serv­ing reef fish dur­ing a to­tal eclipse that swept over Pinta is­land in the Gala­pa­gos, the au­thors found that day­time fish sought shel­ter in the reef dur­ing to­tal­ity while noc­tur­nal fish were more likely to leave the cover of their day­time habi­tats.

Yet an­other study in Ver­acruz, Mex­ico, found that some orb-weaver spi­ders will start to dis­man­tle their webs dur­ing to­tal­ity, and then re­build them when the sun’s face is re­vealed once again.

But there is al­ways more to learn, so it should come as no sur­prise that a few ex­per­i­ments to doc­u­ment an­i­mal be­hav­ior are in the works for the up­com­ing eclipse.

Jonathan Fram, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Ore­gon State Univer­sity, plans to use a se­ries of bio-acous­tic sonars to see whether zoo­plank­ton in the path of to­tal­ity will rise in the wa­ter col­umn as the sun is ob­scured by the moon.

Across the ocean, an enor­mous num­ber of an­i­mals hide in the deep, dark wa­ters dur­ing the day, and then swim up­ward dur­ing the cover of night to take ad­van­tage of the food gen­er­ated in the sun­lit part of the ocean.

“It’s the big­gest mi­gra­tion on the planet, and most of us don’t even know it is hap­pen­ing,” said Kelly Benoit-Bird, a se­nior sci­en­tist at the Mon­terey Bay Aquar­ium Re­search In­sti­tute who is not in­volved with Fram’s study.

Sci­en­tists have known for decades that changes in light can af­fect th­ese an­i­mals’ mi­gra­tion pat­terns. For ex­am­ple, most of th­ese deep-wa­ter mi­grants won’t swim as close to the sur­face as usual dur­ing a full moon. Still, a to­tal eclipse pro­vides an ideal nat­u­ral ex­per­i­ment that can help re­searchers learn how im­por­tant light cues are to dif­fer­ent crit­ters, Benoit-Bird said.

Fram, who works on a project known as the Ocean Ob­ser­va­to­ries Ini­tia­tive, will be able to get data from six bio-acous­tic sonars off the North­west coast — three that are di­rectly in the path of to­tal­ity of the up­com­ing eclipse and three that are not.

This should al­low re­searchers to see how much the sun has to dim to af­fect changes in the zoo­plank­ton’s move­ments.

To bet­ter un­der­stand how land an­i­mals re­act to a to­tal eclipse, the Cal­i­for­nia Academy of Sciences is launch­ing Life Re­sponds, a cit­i­zen science ex­per­i­ment us­ing the mo­bile app iNat­u­ral­ist.

And the best news? You don’t even need to be in the path of to­tal­ity to par­tic­i­pate.

“We want to see if an­i­mals are hav­ing a re­ac­tion at the 90%, 80% or even 75% mark,” said Ri­card, who is help­ing to spear­head the project.

Vol­un­teers will be asked to make two ob­ser­va­tions on the day of the eclipse. The first should be made about 30 min­utes be­fore the point of max­i­mum eclipse, and the sec­ond about five min­utes be­fore or af­ter.

“We know those two min­utes of to­tal­ity are pre­cious, and you are go­ing to want to be look­ing at the sky, not your phone,” Ri­card said.

Ob­ser­va­tions of any an­i­mal be­hav­ior are wel­come, Ri­card said. She sug­gests look­ing for changes in squir­rel be­hav­ior (they are gen­er­ally abun­dant) or per­haps look­ing to see if noc­tur­nal an­i­mals such as bats or owls be­gin to emerge as the moon cov­ers the sun.

Her team is also in­ter­ested in how do­mes­ti­cated dogs and farm an­i­mals will re­act, as well as how in­sect be­hav­ior changes.

“We have no idea how many ob­ser­va­tions we are go­ing to get, but we’ll take as many as we can,” Ri­card said.

Kent Nishimura Los Angeles Times

BROWN PEL­I­CANS, like th­ese in Go­leta, have been found to in­ter­rupt their for­ag­ing be­fore an eclipse and re­sume af­ter­ward.

Don Bartletti Los Angeles Times

SOME orb-weaver spi­ders start dis­man­tling webs dur­ing a to­tal eclipse and re­build them when the sun reap­pears, a study found.

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