Comparing social media observations of animals during a solar eclipse to published research

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Abstract

Solar eclipses offer a unique opportunity to evaluate the relative influence of unexpected darkness on behavior of some species of animals due to their sudden interference with local light levels and meteorology. The Great American Solar Eclipse of 21 August 2017 rekindled curiosity in animal behavior during an eclipse. What made this most recent eclipse especially unique was the fact that it occurred over a relatively populous region of the globe, with approximately 12 million people living in the path of totality, garnering a lot of publicity. This immense viewership created a unique opportunity to gather a large amount of observations simultaneously across the eclipse. A comparison of informal observations of animal behavior during solar eclipse from social media (i.e., March for Science Facebook discussion) to those conducted scientifically (published literature) can elucidate how well this topic is being covered. Describing which species and behaviors are covered in each source can reveal gaps in the literature which can emphasize areas for future research. Our understanding of animal behavior can benefit beyond the narrow scope of such studies by characterizing the complex variations in behavioral response which result from a solar eclipse. A wide variety of environmental stimuli can influence the behavior of animals including temperature, weather, light, lunar and seasonal cycles, seismic activity, as well as other perturbations to their circadian rhythm. Solar eclipses offer a unique opportunity to evaluate the relative influence of unexpected darkness on behavior of animals due to their sudden interference with local light levels and meteorology. Though occasionally bizarre, modern studies have lent support to the idea that at least some individuals of certain species display altered behavior during these events. A comparison of informal observations of animal behavior during solar eclipse from social media (i.e., March for Science Facebook discussion) to those conducted scientifically (published literature) can elucidate how well this topic is being covered. Describing which species and behaviors are covered in each source can reveal gaps in the literature which can emphasize areas for future research. We enumerated a total of 685 observations of approximately 48 different types of animals reacting to the 2017 Great American Solar Eclipse from over 800 posts on the discussion. The animals most frequently reported on social media as reacting to the eclipse were invertebrates (40% of social media observations) and birds (35% of social media observations). A total of 26 published studies recorded 169 behavior observations of approximately 131 different animal species. The group with the highest number of observations in the literature were birds with 62 records (37% of literature observations). Most observations reported decreases in activity (38.7% of bird observations) followed by increases in vocalization (24.2% of bird observations). There were approximately 30 different species of invertebrate observed (24% of literature observations), most frequently reported of which were zooplankton (14.6% of invertebrate observations).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number59
JournalAnimals
Volume9
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2019

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Keywords

  • Animals
  • Behavior
  • Eclipse
  • Solar

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • veterinary(all)

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