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Zoo animals got quiet, exhibited nighttime behavior during total solar eclipse

Farm animals confused during eclipse
Farm animals were scared and confused during total solar eclipse 01:30

Scientists and zookeepers watched Monday as giraffes, gorillas, lions, macaws and flamingoes exhibited unusual behavior during the total solar eclipse

Because total eclipses happen so infrequently, researchers don't know much about how they impact animals. They studied animals on Monday at several zoos situated along the eclipse path of totality, such as the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas. Animals were largely calm at the Fort Worth Zoo, though some, including the gorillas, lions and lemurs, showed increased signs of vigilance and curiosity. 

"Most importantly, we did not observe any signs of increased anxiety or nervous behaviors," a Fort Worth Zoo spokesperson said. "And by the time totality had passed, things went back to normal, almost immediately!"

Several animals at the Fort Worth Zoo made their way toward their barn doors, which is where they go at night, as the skies darkened during the eclipse, the zoo spokesperson said. The Aldabra tortoises, giraffes, elephants, kudu, bonobos, coatis and gorillas all headed toward their barns. 

Silverback during the eclipse
A silverback gorilla during the eclipse at the Fort Worth Zoo. Fort Worth Zoo

Zoos were also able to observe some unique daytime behavior from nocturnal animals. At the Fort Worth Zoo, a ringtail cat and two owl species showed increased activity during the day.

Also in Texas, zookeepers at the Dallas Zoo saw giraffes and zebras run around during the eclipse. Chimpanzees patrolled the outer edge of their habitat at the zoo while all but one of a bachelor group of gorillas went to the door they use to go in at night. 

An ostrich at the Dallas Zoo laid an egg during the eclipse. Other birds got louder before totality, then went silent. Flamingos and penguins huddled together. 

Birds also showed unique behavior at the Indianapolis Zoo, a zoo spokesperson said. Macaws, budgies and other birds got quiet and roosted up high, which is nighttime behavior.

"You can hear they're totally silent now - not a peep, and no movement," Indianapolis Zoo President and CEO Dr. Robert Shumake said in a video recorded during totality. 

Flamingos at the zoo huddled together and also got quiet. Cheetahs and a warthog displayed behavior normally seen during the evening. The cheetahs paced at the highest point of their grassy yard during the eclipse while a warthog waited at its back gate. 

At the Philadelphia Zoo, which was not on the path of totality, visitors observed the animals during the partial eclipse, CBS Philadelphia reported. Visitors were able to sign up with zoo staff, pick an animal to observe and use their phones to track behavior before, during and after the eclipse. Most of the zoo's animals seemed pretty unfazed by the partial eclipse.

Researchers also studied zoo animals during the 2017 solar eclipse. In a study published in 2020, researchers noted they'd reviewed the behavior of 17 species — mammals, birds and reptiles — at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina, during the eclipse. They said around 75% of species showed a change of some sort in response to the eclipse. They largely exhibited behaviors usually seen in the evening or at night, with some animals showing signs of anxiety.

Zookeepers and researchers in the U.S. won't get a chance to do this kind of research during a total eclipse again until 2044, when the next total eclipse in the contiguous U.S. will happen. Just three states are on the path of totality for the Aug. 23, 2044 eclipse, according to The Planetary Society.

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