The Solar Eclipse and Wildlife

Eclipses offer a rare opportunity to study animal behavior in unusual conditions.

On Monday, April 8, Americans from coast to coast will have their eyes turned to the skies. But as this year’s solar eclipse approaches totality, they shouldn’t forget to look around them, too.

Eclipses, one of nature’s most unusual and dramatic phenomena, have well-documented effects on animal behavior. In previous eclipses, observers have noticed a general quieting of animal activity around them, with many animals becoming inactive or going silent. A 2017 study at a South Carolina zoo — located in the path of totality of an eclipse that year — found that 75 percent of observed animals changed their behavior during the event.

But why? Given their rarity, the full effect of eclipses on animals isn’t yet well-understood. For some wildlife, however, the event seems to suppress typical daytime activity while triggering the types of behaviors associated with nightfall.

A brown and cream-colored owl looks directly into the camera.
Barn owl. Credit: Kathy Munsel/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

During an eclipse — particularly in the path of totality — the sky darkens, and temperatures can drop. This can lead birds (many of which are known to change their behavior in response to lighting intensity) to quiet their calling and leave the sky, with some behaving as if they’re preparing to roost. Bees and other diurnal insects may become less active, while some flowers close their petals. Spiders have been observed spinning down their webs, as many do before nightfall.

Meanwhile, though the effects here seem less pronounced, some nighttime animals may start to become active as the eclipse nears totality. Frogs, crickets, and owls have been observed calling, as they often do at dusk. In the 2017 eclipse, which took place in August, fireflies became active in some areas.

Overall, however, eclipses are often marked by a lull in animal activity, with diurnal animals resuming their regular behavior as the event subsides.

Where can I watch wildlife during the solar eclipse?

While a partial eclipse will be visible across the contiguous United States, the effects on animals are likely to be more significant closer to the path of totality — the band of earth’s surface where the moon can be seen fully covering the sun. This path will cross fifteen eastern states from Texas to Maine throughout Monday afternoon. Full totality will last just a few minutes in any given location, but changes in light may be noticeable in the hours before and after the event.

Wildlife can be observed anywhere, from a local park to your own backyard. For best viewing opportunities, find somewhere quiet — ideally away from roads or large crowds — where it will be easier to listen for changes in sounds during the solar eclipse.

More than 30 national wildlife refuges and 27 national park units fall in the path of totality, for those able to make the trip. Many will be hosting official viewing events; you can check with your local park’s website or social media accounts for more information.

A wild feline turns its head towards the camera.
Bobcat. Credit: Orsulak/USFWS

A citizen science opportunity

For those interested in helping scientists better understand the solar eclipse’s effects on wildlife, there are several opportunities to participate. Researchers hope these initiatives — using technologies and platforms unavailable to them in past eclipses — can provide the data needed to draw broader conclusions about animal behavior.

  • NASA’s Eclipse Soundscape Project invites Americans to document their experiences of the eclipse through audio recordings and written notes.
  • Solar Eclipse Safari, a project run by researchers at NC State, asks participants to document changes in animal behavior during the event.

You can also document your experiences using citizen science apps such as iNaturalist and eBird, which serve as public databases for researchers and amateur naturalists alike.