COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Scientists at Riverbanks Zoo say there is currently very little research on how animals respond during a total solar eclipse. However, that may start to change next week.
Riverbanks Zoo Adjunct Scientist Adam Hartstone-Rose is an associate professor of cell biology and anatomy at the University of South Carolina's School of Medicine. He also studies animal behavior, and on Aug. 21, he'll be leading a team of researchers at the zoo to study more than a dozen animals.
"I started by looking at the eclipse literature and trying to figure out who are sort of the world's leading experts on eclipse animal behavior," said Hartstone-Rose. "It turns out that there are none, as far as I can tell."
Hartstone-Rose says he is looking to change that. While there are personal accounts of what people have witnessed during a total solar eclipse, like birds singing and bats flying around, Hartstone-Rose says there is currently no hard evidence the eclipse caused that behavior.
"That's the problem with a lot of anecdotal observations that have been made during eclipses is that they are usually completely out of context," remarked Hartstone-Rose. "So the spiders that tear down their webs, of course, they tear down their webs at other times, so is that a particularly special behavior during an eclipse?"
They are questions Hartstone-Rose and others say they have the unique opportunity to try and answer. Riverbanks Zoo has selected more than a dozen animals to study based on several factors.
"One of the really cool things about the study we are doing is that we have a mix between diurnal and then crepuscular nocturnal animals that were looking at," said Ed Diebold, Riverbanks' director of animal collections and conservation.
Those are animals are active during the day -- diurnal -- versus the night -- crepuscular nocturnal.
Flamingos have been picked as one of the more than a dozen animals to be studied during the eclipse. They are diurnal.
"One thing that's great about the flamingos is that they are camped outside 24 hours a day," said Hartstone-Rose. "So these animals are used to the daily solar cycle. So we will see, are they even going to react like it's the evening? Do they even have any specific behavior that's evening behavior?"
The Siamang ape is also active during the day and loud.
"These guys may, and they do, vocalize a lot during the day but hopefully science will let us "tease out" whether the eclipse triggers that behavior as opposed to it being random behavior," said Diebold.
Then there's the nocturnal Tawny Frogmouth.
"So the question we have is when there is darkness in the middle of the day at a clear blue sky, will these two and a half minutes of darkness cause the Tawny frogmouth to become active?" added Diebold.
All questions, that even in cloudy skies, these scientists hope to better answer.
"There's a good chance that it's going to be overcast and the truth is that is science. Whenever you're working with live animals or with the weather things happen and predictably but the eclipse will still be an eerie event," said Hartstone-Rose. "It will be very dark this is lights are going to come up at the zoo, and they're going to be a lot of people here and a lot of energy and a lot of buzz so no matter what happens the animals may react to the darkness."
Hartstone-Rose and his team will be studying the animals on days leading up to the eclipse to get a good basis for normal behavior. The full list of animals includes Siamang apes, Galapagos tortoises, grizzly bears, flamingos, baboons, lorikeets, giraffes, gorillas, elephants, komodo dragons, sea lions, and the tawny-frogmouth.
Scientists say in addition to their studies, those who come out to the zoo on Eclipse Day will be asked to help them observe animal behavior, as well & many zoo goers will be surveyed about their experience. There are also apps you can use to record what you see like "iNaturalist." It is free in your app store.