You Can Help Scientists Determine Eclipses Affect Animals

Earlier this month, I published a blog titled, “Name That Species? Yes, There’s An App For That Too!” With a new app launched by iNaturalist, users can now identify flora and fauna, while you are getting up close and personal with your smartphone camera. This artificial intelligence [AI] software is triggered by a massive amount of big data which currently identifies approximately tens of thousands of species.

Little did I know at the time, the iNaturalist app might solve a larger cosmic problem — namely, does an eclipse drive animals wild?

So many eclipses, So little data . . .

The word eclipse comes from ‘ekleipsis,’ the ancient Greek word for "being abandoned." In early times, solar eclipses were feared as omens that could potentially bring death and destruction.

However, down through the centuries, man has learned they are harmless — and were actually helpful in proving Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Over the course of the 5,000-year period from -1999 BCE to the year 3000 AD in the future, the Earth will have experienced 11,899 eclipses. Every 1000 years, this breaks down to 840 partial eclipses, 791 annular eclipses, 635 total eclipses and 114 hybrid eclipses. That works out to 2-3 eclipses of all kinds each year, and about 2 total solar eclipses every year.

Yet, with all those eclipses, the one thing we know the least about is how eclipses affect our animals, both wild and domestic?

Research on animal behavior is limited . . .

When you start looking for in-depth research on animal behavior during eclipses, the evidence is limited. One study found that colonial orb-weaving spiders appeared to start deconstructing their webs during an eclipse in Mexico in 1991. Another study, from 1984, noted that a group of captive chimpanzees in the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in the state of Georgia, all seemed to congregate on a climbing structure during the totality. But a study of rumination and grazing behavior in cattle during Europe’s 1999 eclipse found no effect. Similarly, a group of captive baboons in Chile seemed decidedly not affected at all during the eclipse of 1994.

However, all of these findings are anecdotal. They are not conclusive one way or another. That’s because the world only gets a total solar eclipse approximately every 18 months in different parts of the world. The best scientific findings are when scientists can compare and contrast variables and repeat the test many times over, to evaluate its validity.

So even if we get some really good data with the upcoming eclipse on August 21 regarding moose, for instance — when the next solar eclipse rolls around July 2019 in Chile and Argentina, we can’t retest moose, because they are not indigenous to that part of the world.

You can donate to the cause . . .

So what's the solution? Well, with this upcoming solar eclipse, you can donate a little data to the cause.

All that’s required is for you to sign up for the iNaturalist network and download the app to your iPhone or Android device.

iNaturalist allows anyone to take a picture of an animal (or plant or fungi or flower) using the app's capability to identify it. Then as an enhancement, on the day of the eclipse [August 21], the app will feature a special drop-down menu that permits you to record observations leading up to, during, and after this astronomical event.

You can accomplish this in a couple of ways. Either snap photos of the animals around you, like your pets or garden snakes, or perhaps you'll want to visit a local zoo or bird sanctuary to record both the event and local wildlife. For instance, the Nashville Zoo in Tennessee  is encouraging visitors to log observations by using the iNaturalist app to tag their zoo animals. While this particular zoo is home to big cats and primates, it’s the birds that might actually be the most interesting to document.

“I don’t think anybody knows for sure what the animals will do,” said Jim Bartoo, the zoo’s marketing and public relations director, “but my bet would be to watch the flamingos and the rhinoceros hornbills.”

It’s Bartoo thought that the birds may be more affected than other animals because they’re used to being brought inside as the sun sets.

Of course, it just might happen that the cardinal, blue jay, or hummingbird you’re watching doesn’t do anything unique during the celestial floorshow. But not to worry. That behavior is noteworthy as well.

And while experts all agree on one thing; i.e. wearing the proper eye gear — you won’t have to worry about buying a pair for Fido. When it comes right down to it, our pets are actually quite a bit more savvy than about NOT looking directly into the sun’s harmful rays.

Then again, if you’d like your ‘best friend’ to partake in the day’s activities, check out my previous blog on this topic, titled: "Sun Glasses & Your Dogs During The Solar Eclipse!"

See you on the dark side!

Dog Sunglasses for the Eclipse

Primary Source: Washington Post