How The Solar Eclipse Will Affect Animals

The mysteries of the impending solar eclipse have a lot of folks worrying about their furry and feathered friends.
Photography by Mary Milz

WHILE MANY of us will have our (protected) eyes on the sky April 8, there’s a large population among us that has zero interest in the much-anticipated celestial show. They have no clue what a total solar eclipse is, when it’s happening, and why. And they certainly won’t be trotting to any viewing parties unless prodded by their best friends. We’re talking about our four-footed pals. Do we need to be concerned about them being out and about during the eclipse?

Dr. Steve Thompson, a clinical professor of small animal primary care at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, says probably not. “When it comes to staring up at the sky, they may be smarter than us or just less interested.”

Photography by Kevin Doer

“In general, dogs don’t have a desire to stare for minutes at this. That’s a problem for people,” he says. “We’re going to want to see the whole thing and not look away.”

So, thankfully, there’s no need to worry about solar eclipse glasses or goggles for your pooch (which my two refused to model despite a good 20 minutes of coaxing).

Photography by Mary Milz

Still, Thompson says it’s probably best to leave your pup at home during the eclipse, especially if he or she is anxious around crowds or cowers during storms. Thompson says dogs it’s not just thunder that warns dogs of a brewing storm, but they sense a darkening sky and dropping temperatures as indicators, as well.

As for cats? It’s a non-event or nap time, with indoor cats likely to snooze through it. Thompson says that in general, “we don’t have to be overly concerned about our pets.”

But Thompson does expect various farm animals to respond. When the sky begins to darken, chickens will likely go to roost, while cattle return might from pasture and horses head to their stalls, “because all of a sudden at 3 o’clock, they’re thinking it’s 8 o’clock and feeding time.”

And don’t forget the nocturnal insects. You can expect to hear crickets and others chirping or making their night noises.

Photo courtesy Indianapolis Zoo

The Indianapolis Zoo also anticipates a wide range of reactions from many of its residents. Michelle Kolar, the zoo’s director of education, says, “I think we’re all jazzed up for what could happen.”

She says there’s not a lot of research because total solar eclipses are so infrequent. But she notes that in 2017, Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina, was among a handful of zoos that tracked their animal’s responses to the eclipse, reporting that 75 percent of them had some type of reaction to the darkening sky.

Photo courtesy Indianapolis Zoo

“It has to do with a change in temperatures, humidity, and, of course, daylight,” Kolar says. “It could be nighttime animals making noise or daytime animals verbalizing or becom[ing] quiet, so we’re really excited to see what the animals here do.”

Besides being open longer hours, the Indianapolis Zoo is recruiting visitors to act as “citizen scientists,” observing and taking notes shortly before, during, and after the 3 minutes and 50 seconds of totality in Indianapolis. The information collected will be shared with other zoos to help them plan for future eclipses in their areas. (To take part, stop by the zoo’s Bicentennial Pavilion April 8 to pick up your solar eclipse glasses and get the link to the data collection sheet.)

Photo courtesy Indianapolis Zoo

“We’re particularly interested in seeing what happens with our great apes, our chimpanzees because they’re so incredibly curious,” Kolar says, noting that apes have been documented pointing at eclipses and vocalizing differently because it’s so unusual.

Photo courtesy Indianapolis Zoo

The zoo will also be collecting data in their plains area, which includes rhinos, elephants, and giraffes. And they’ll be keeping a close eye on their many birds. How will the macaws behave? Will they get quieter or vocalize differently? 

“We literally don’t know,” Kolar says. “This is one of the only times we get to witness a celestial event like this … how it affects the ecosystem. So for those of us who are geeks for nature, we’re really excited to see what happens and how our animals behave and, of course, witness [the total] eclipse ourselves. This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”