How did animals behave during the eclipse?

What was EclipseWatch ?

India was one of the countries in the path of the recent annular solar eclipse on January 15, 2010, and this generated great activity and excitement across the country. At Rameshwaram, at the southern tip of India the maximum possible eclipse was visible (see Map above), and scientists, students and enthusiasts gathered to watch 11 minute-long peak. In many places, overlapping leaves acted as a multitude of pinhole cameras, painting images of the eclipse in patterns of light and shade.

Apart from watching the eclipse itself, many people across India also observed the reactions of animals as part of EclipseWatch. A total of 100 volunteers from 30 cities across India tracked the behaviour of common birds and animals like crows, sparrows, geckos and dogs in response to the eclipse. By comparing animal behaviour at different localities across the subcontinent, each of which experienced the eclipse at different times with different magnitudes, we hoped to better understand how animals respond to an eclipse. The information collected shows that animals reacted differently to the eclipse, and that responses were also different across the geographic span of the eclipse.

Who watched animals during the eclipse?

Participation in EclipseWatch came from 13 states of India with the highest number from Maharashtra (37 participants), followed by Karnataka (28). Fergusson College in Pune, with 26 participants, was the most active of all organisations that took part. Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Haryana, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Rajasthan were also represented.

Did animals alter their behaviour during the eclipse?

A summary of the data sent in by EclipseWatch volunteers suggests that animals certainly react to the eclipse, but the way they do so differs across different animal species, and also across different regions, depending on the extent of the eclipse. The clearest changes were in the behaviour of crows, which seemed to show a lull in calling and flying at the start of the eclipse, with activity picking up again towards the end of the eclipse. Kites were seen in the sky throughout the eclipse, and while pigeons showed a short lull, they did not retire during the entire eclipse, and were back in the sky before the eclipse ended. Sparrows decreased calling where the eclipse was strongest, but showed no patterns in other regions. Information about bats, dogs or lizards was too sparse to come to any definite conclusion. From comments that participants sent, there appeared to be a strong increase in the activity of dragonflies, swallows and swifts; all creatures that eat flying insects that may have emerged at the onset of the eclipse.

For more detailed results about each of our indicator species visit this page.

So what’s new?

That animals respond to an eclipse by behaving as though it is evening is nothing new. But this is the first time that there has been a coordinated effort to document the changes in behaviour of common animals across the entire country. The 100 Citizen Scientists who participated in EclipseWatch gathered data from Trivandrum in the south to Dehradun in the north and Itanagar in the east. Although the amount of data does not permit close analysis and conclusive results, the results show that animals react  in different ways depending on the species as well as the magnitude of the eclipse. The information gathered will enable a refinement of questions and methods for similar efforts in the future.

Most importantly, many volunteers enjoyed participating in EclipseWatch, which is exactly what Citizen Science is all about — getting outdoors, observing the natural world, and doing so in a manner that increases the sum total of what we know about nature. If you enjoyed being a volunteer on EclipseWatch, or missed the opportunity and wish you had taken part, send us a message and we will keep you posted on our upcoming participatory science projects.

eclipsewatch (at) gmail.com

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