NC State leading research in rare study on animal behavior, response during solar eclipse

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Friday, April 5, 2024
NC State leading research study on animal response to eclipse
Several NC State professors and dozens of students will travel to Texas to conduct rare research on how animals respond to the April 8 celestial event.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- During the total solar eclipse on April 8, several NC State University professors and dozens of students will travel to Texas to conduct rare research on how animals respond to the celestial event.

Dr. Adam Hartstone-Rose is a Professor of Biological Sciences at NCSU leading the study.

During the 2017 eclipse, Hartstone-Rose was at the University of South Carolina and conducted a study watching 17 different species at a zoo in the path of totality. His findings in 2017 were groundbreaking since the only broad study of animal behavior during a solar eclipse had been conducted in New England in 1932.

"It was the most comprehensive study in almost 100 years," Hartstone-Rose said.

For the 2024 eclipse, Hartstone-Rose, colleagues, and students will head to a zoo in the path of totality in Fort. Worth, Texas. The researchers will gather more data to build on their past study in 2017, which found odd behavior from animals during the eclipse, such as nocturnal activities, anxiety, and mating.

"During the eclipse, several species started having anxiety-related behavior," Hartstone-Rose said. "The flamingos, all the adults grouped around the chicks to kind of protect them. So, that was really like, endearing. And, the craziest reaction was what happens with the giraffes. Giraffes are really calm animals and really only run when they're being chased by something or startled. And, actually, during our observations, they started running around again and it was amazing. So, we will be studying the giraffes again. Another interesting behavior was with slow-moving Galápagos tortoises. During the last eclipse, they began moving much faster and some started mating."

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Hartstone-Rose will be looking to see whether the animals repeat the behaviors in this eclipse. He's also working on another project as a principal investigator of Solar Eclipse Safari, a citizen scientist project to collect data and observations from people viewing the eclipse across the nation.

"They could either fill out animal observations on their phones or their tablets, or we've made versions that they can print and bring into the fields and watch animals themselves," Hartstone-Rose said.

Hartstone said they are excited to get information from potentially other zoos, and other places like farms.

"Nobody's ever published what roosters are doing during an eclipse. Shouldn't they crow? We don't know," he said. "I'm really interested about what people see in their own neighborhoods or even their backyard. And, from this giant wealth of data that we hope to get, we'll finally be able to answer, very subtle questions about what do squirrels do or even how much of totality is necessary to cause a reaction in some species."