MOSTLY UNPERTURBED BY ECLIPSE
wont have to wait long for the next solar eclipse, which will
happen every day this year.
just will not be in the right place to see it because most of the zones
of totality will be in outer space and not on Earth. Except for the
few hours of lunar eclipses (when the earth passes between the moon
and the sun), a solar eclipse is happening constantly. The moon is casting
a shadow somewhere out there all the time, except when its hiding
behind our planet.
a full solar eclipse is spectacular, and the nation responded to the
opportunity from coast to coast and even in the ocean. I heard of a
cruise ship destined for the zone of totality offshore that was booked
weeks in advance. Thousands drove to locations hundreds of miles away
where they were assured of a view of the sun being totally blacked out
for 2 minutes or more. Well, assuming the weather cooperated by providing
a clear sky.
to know what animals would do, so I invited a dozen friends to join
us in a field for a pre-eclipse picnic and a guaranteed 1 minute and
57 seconds of no sun. We made no assurances about the weather, other
than promising high temperatures and humidity, except for the 10-degree
drop during totality. The capricious nature of clouds was understandably
out of our control.
behavior of different species, I asked people to tune in to selected
animal groups. An ornithologist was to watch and listen to what nearby
birds did. Another individual was to pay attention to calling insects,
especially nocturnal tree crickets and katydids. Lots of dragonflies
were flying around in the field, so some guests were asked to see if
they stopped flying and perched on vegetation. I elected to watch our
two beehives to see what the bees did. As for the flora, I didnt
need to be an ecologist to know a 2-minute eclipse would be inconsequential
to plants, so no one was put in charge of the grass, shrubs or trees.
a record of the eclipse itself, we invited a first-rate photographer
with a camera as long as my arm to capture the full solar eclipse, including
corona and solar flares. Everyone took pictures of others in the group
as they leaned back in lawn chairs and stared with funky-looking glasses
at the sun. Fortunately, we had blue sky for half an hour before and
after the eclipse. I later talked with Scott Pfaff, curator of herpetology
at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia, to see how zoo animals responded
to the total eclipse.
in our field were interesting but not breathtaking. Four doves flew
up into a tree, which is not particularly instructive as they fly into
trees on a regular basis every day. The person in charge of dragonflies
became distracted by the celestial events underway and forgot to see
what they or any other insects did. One unequivocal change in animal
behavior just before total eclipse was that honeybees returned to the
hives in droves. They were out again minutes later as light returned.
zoo, observations were equally underwhelming. The giant tortoises that
were placidly eating grass continued to do so during total darkness
and afterward. Alligators and aquatic turtles did not move from where
they basked or floated. The main behavioral observation was that the
flock of flamingos at the zoo began running wildly not because
of a 2-minute period of darkness but because they were terrified when
the 10,000 visitors at the zoo gave a loud cheer when the sun disappeared.
Not an unreasonable response for any being.
as an ecologist about animal responses to a total eclipse is that the
species most responsive and dramatically affected is one of the primates:
humans, the only animal to be aware of an eclipse in advance.
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