Monday’s total solar eclipse brought millions of travelers to a thin strip of land stretching from the craggy coast of Oregon to the sandy beaches of South Carolina. For many of these travelers, the chance to see a total solar eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime event, ripe with curiosity and amazement. People from anywhere and everywhere huddled together inside the path of totality, eager to understand how the world would be forever changed by a couple minutes of complete daytime darkness. And no doubt, for those couple of minutes, the world was changed. A total solar eclipse—easily one of the most magnificent phenomena able to be seen by the human eye—does more than clog freeways and crowd cities; it also produces profound environmental changes. These changes have been observed by scientists for centuries, and, through these observations, we’ve developed a more complete understanding of the cosmos, and how it affects us here on earth.
Nature and the Solar Eclipse
During a total eclipse, the shadow of the moon over the sun makes the day look like night. After totality, ground temperatures drop significantly and the affected areas plunge into darkness. In fact, the sky becomes so dark viewers can typically see the stars. This darkness can trick plants and animals into thinking it’s actually nighttime. For instance, certain flowers that close their blooms at night also do so during a total eclipse. Similarly, nocturnal bugs and birds may briefly come out from their slumber during totality, awakened by the sudden temperature drop. Cicadas, in particular, have been observed making loud mating calls in the minutes leading up to totality. Once darkness sets in, however, reports suggest an eerie, surreal silence takes effect.
Other creatures become upset and confused by the change in light and temperature. Dogs have been observed barking, whining, and running around aimlessly. Eclipse conditions can also irritate cats, horses, and chickens, causing them to become spooked and irritable. Many people who watched the eclipse with animals noted that the animals seemed aware of what was coming before totality set in. In some cases, people reported their animals acting strange in the hours before the eclipse and in the hours after it as well. Such a profound change often has psychological effects that can influence behavior long after the sun’s light returns. That psychological shockwave certainly does a number on human beings. Reports of traffic accidents, mood swings, and strange incidents increased in the hours and days following the eclipse. Some researchers have explained this phenomenon as a kind of post-eclipse haze that both animals and people are likely susceptible to. After all, when the world changes so profoundly for such a brief moment in time, it can be hard to re-acclimate ourselves to ordinary life.