ECLIPSES & ANIMALS

What is a solar eclipse?
Solar eclipses are rare events that occur when the earth, moon and the sun fall in a straight line. The moon, which comes between the earth and the sun, blocks out sunlight, making light conditions change dramatically on earth. The intensity of an eclipse varies across locations as does the proportion of the sun blocked out by the moon .

Where is the Jan 15 eclipse occurring?
On January 15 2010, a total solar eclipse will be visible over many parts of the globe including Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia. In India, the eclipse will be visible all over the country and will range from being complete (100%) in parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, to varying, lesser degrees in other parts of the country. For example, Delhi will experience an eclipse of about 50%. (Click here to see a map of the extent of the eclipse in India or here to find the time of the eclipse in your city).  There will also be a change in the timing of the eclipse in different parts of the country. The next eclipse of this kind will occur over India only in 2034 and that’s why this is a great time to go out on 15 Jan. (Click here for a link for guidelines to watch the eclipse safely).

How do animals respond to eclipses?
From times immemorial, humans have looked at solar eclipses with a sense of wonder and fear. People have believed for a long time that animals have an innate mechanism to detect certain natural phenomenon, such as earthquakes. Research has shown that animals like dogs can indeed detect earthquakes because they can hear low frequency waves that we cannot. So here, careful research has borne out interpretations from casual observations. What about responses to eclipses? Here again, there are many anecdotal accounts, and a fair number of formal studies as well.

Light is an important cue for animals for their daily activities. Eclipses can change the surrounding light conditions dramatically. In general, diurnal animals tend to behave as though night were approaching, and they increase the frequency of roosting and bedding behaviour. In contrast, animals that are normally active at night (nocturnal animals like bats) may show the reverse pattern, emerging into the open as the sky darkens during an eclipse.

What is the purpose of EclipseWatch?
We know that the reduction in light intensity during an eclipse makes animals behave as though evening were approaching. Less is known on the sensitivity of different animals to reduced light conditions. For example, how quickly after an eclipse begins to animals begin to change their behaviour? Is the magnitude of this change related to differences in the maximum coverage of the eclipse (eg, nearly 100% in parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu versus 40% in parts of Kashmir). Comparing the changes in animal behaviour at different locations across the country, each of which experiences the eclipse at different times, and to different degrees, will help us understand the sensitivity of animals to such differences.

Should I listen to calls and look for flight in the same 15 sec, or in consecutive 15-sec intervals? (The instruction on the form are a bit ambiguous about this.)

Try looking for flying animals listed in the form for 15 secs. If you also hear something record it. Or else spend another 15 secs listening.

I’m moving around through the day, can I still participate?

Yes you can. Just mention it in the notes. The entire objective is for everyone to participate and enjoy the process of finding out and sharing information.

I don’t know what a sparrow sounds like

Link to Cornell site on the forms page (added now)

Why are we collecting this information?

People have always wondered what happens when there is an eclipse. What happens to animals? Usually, you can only be at one place at a time – say there is 80% eclipse in your town. This means that you can only observe what happens to animals when there is 80% eclipse. You have no way of knowing what would have happened if there was only 20% or 30% or 40% eclipse. A citizen science intitiative where lots of people from 100s of cities participate will mean you will get information from different places. This will help us understand what happens in nature better.

What will you do with the information?

All data collected by EclipseWatch are free for anyone to explore and download. We will surely compile and alalyse the current information and send you what we find. You as a citizen participant, can do this too by downloading the same data set.

Can we collect information only individually, or also in groups?

Since it is best to get multiple sources of information, it is best if you get indipendant information. You could still meet up as a group, but just look out of different windows or walk to a different corner of your garden or terrace to make your observations!

What species of animals is EclipseWatch tracking?
We have chosen some ‘indicator’ species to track, during and after the eclipse across the country. These are:

1. Crows
2. Pigeons
3. Sparrows
4. Kites
5. House lizards (geckos)
6. Dogs
7. Bats

Note that we describe “crows” as a single category, although many places will have two different species of crows, the House Crow (with grey head and neck) and Jungle Crow (all black). Similarly, several observers may see more than one species of kite and bat. For this, inaugural, EclipseWatch event we do not ask observers to distinguish between the species. In subsequent events, this decision may be changed.

How to participate
Just fill out your details in the form provided and follow the protocol set up for monitoring species most convenient to you. You may also contact us, in case of any questions, at the email address or phone numbers provided (see FAQs).