Eclipse Spooked Animals Causing Some To Go Batty

The lead up to the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017 was documented wildly — particularly when it came to our wild animals. Unfortunately, since there are large gaps of time between eclipses, the actual data collected pertaining to animal 'eclipse-related' behavior is limited and anecdotal at best. Just prior to this year's event, I researched a new app that aided many of us [beyond the scientific community] to help in this endeavor. What some might refer to as the biological version of SoundHound — iNaturalist is a ‘work in progress’ which provides the identities of animals we photograph with our smartphones.

There’s an app for that . . .

For each photo you take, iNaturalist offers up ten possible species. To date, the app has been averaging correct IDs 78 percent of the time. When in doubt, it will provide one overarching recommendation, which varies in detail depending on how confident it is. This is based on its current accumulation of photographic documentation collected to date in the iNaturalist system.

The Eclipse & iNaturalist

Perhaps it was written in the stars. The timing of this year’s solar eclipse and iNaturalist seemed like they were destined to coincide. This new technology, gave Americans a rare opportunity to watch how the natural world reacts when the Sun goes dark — and furthered our knowledge with more answers than man had gathered prior to this momentous event.

According to the iNaturalist creator Ken-ichi Ueda, this software seized a perfect opportunity for users to record their observations before, during, and after the eclipse. The end goal was to surface patterns that would provide us with more insight as to how certain species react when the world goes from light to dark unexpectedly.

Bats in the Belfry?

'Going batty' denotes odd behavior. Bats, by nature are of course, the erratic flying mammals and ‘belfries’ are bell towers found at the top of churches. ’Bats in the belfry’ refers to someone who acts as though he has bats flying around in his head to make him act wildly, eccentric or a bit off-center.

As it turned out, however the eclipse did not prompt bats to ‘go batty.' In fact it produced an another type of reaction all together. The eclipse seemed to make them more upset their normal routines were being disrupted — as if, after the fact they were aware Mother Nature had punked them.

“The bats were really chapped,” says ranger Steve Fullmer of Fort Laramie National Historic Site in Wyoming. “A few left their roosts to start hunting for the ‘night.’ As the sun returned, the first flight tried to get back to the roost, while others were still queued up to take off. Shall we just say that ‘air traffic control’ was snarled up,” and they were not pleased with the results.

To signify their displeasure about the situation, most of them started communicating with each other using their familiar anger call.

Birds of Feather

Other observers using the iNaturalist app also noted “several reports of birds flying in huge formations, as well as birds (especially hummingbirds) changing up their song patterns, either getting very noisy or going quiet at odd times,” said  Rebecca Johnson, citizen science research director at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

As far as our dogs . . .

I personally speculated about domestic dogs having to wearing protective eye-gear during the eclipse. Since humans were warned against not looking directly into the sun, shouldn’t we protect our ‘best friends’  as well, since they wouldn’t know any better? 

That theory was quickly debunked. “It’s no different than any other day — on a normal day, your pets don’t try to look at the sun, and therefore don’t damage their eyes . . . so on this day they’re not gonna do it either,” the University of Missouri’s Angela Speck said at a NASA news conference.

Post-eclipse, there were no alarming reports regarding any damage to our pooches eyes, on the iNaturalist apps or through any other scientific studies.  So, I guess our dogs are smarter than us humans!

Current Stats

To date, post-eclipse, more than 500 people used the iNaturalist app which created approximately 2,100 observations involving about 350 different species.

While that’s a small snapshot for such a momentous event, it does add to the collective pool of data and will help when the next total solar eclipse in North America turns day into night on April 8, 2024.

Primary Source: iNaturalist