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ZooMontana eager to see possible impact of solar eclipse on animals' behavior

A goat smiling at ZooMontana
Posted at 4:57 PM, Apr 07, 2024

BILLINGS — While many of us will have our eyes to the sky Monday for the total solar eclipse, at ZooMontana, zookeepers will be looking down—observing the animals and their behaviors—as things could get a little strange.

"In the path of totality, there’s a real chance we could see some behavioral changes in animals,” said Jeff Ewelt, the executive director of ZooMontana, on Friday.

Jeff Ewelt
Jeff Ewelt

Much of the eastern part of the country will witness a total solar eclipse, during which, animals could display some interesting behavioral changes.

"I think the interesting thing is, this year, there seems to be a lot of attention on animals,” Ewelt said.

In Billings, around 50% of sun coverage is predicted.

"Here at ZooMontana, we’re probably not going to notice much of a difference just because of where we’re at," Ewelt said. "54% totality, something like that. So probably won’t see much."

Ewelt said while Yellowstone County won’t see much of a change, the zoo is still keeping an eye out and is excited to hear what its zoo colleagues across the country witness during the event.

A previous solar eclipse
A previous solar eclipse

"I know a lot of our colleagues are really excited to really get some good data on what these animals are doing,” Ewelt said.

He said zoo animals in the path of totality will be monitored closely.

"They may think it’s nighttime, they may want to get inside. It’s time for their bedtime routine if you will. But, that said, in some zoos, there have been other behavior changes. For some reason, giraffes, they’ve been observed huddling together and kind of swaying back and forth, which is a sign of anxiety. Flamingos do the same thing. And it’s thought with flamingos that it’s potentially because they think a big predator is in the sky. So they kind of get together in a small flock which is interesting," Ewelt explained. "Some of the other animals, like bonobos and chimpanzees, will mate during an eclipse because it’s their way to actually keep anxiety down as well. Which I think is interesting."

Flamingo at Cincinnati Zoo
Flamingo at Cincinnati Zoo

When it comes to pets, they may hide, howl, pace, or pant during the eclipse.

"Pets will most often react to us. So with all of the hooping and hollering that we do as their owners, that might cause some anxiety with the pets. But other than that, that’s really all you’re going to see in your pet,” Ewelt said. "Animals are not going to look directly in the sun, so you don’t have to worry about getting glasses for your dog. He’s going to be okay."

A goat smiling at ZooMontana
A goat smiling at ZooMontana

Wild animals could have some cause for confusion.

"Wild animals take all their cues from nature. So when that sun disappears and the temperatures cool down, they’re going to think it’s nighttime. So they’re going to perch if it’s a bird. You might hear crickets, you might hear owls," Ewelt said. "The songbirds are going to stop singing because they’re going to think it’s nighttime. And then, oh my gosh, it’s daytime again and they’re right back at it. So you will see some of those changes happen which is interesting."

Scout the Owl at ZooMontana
Scout the Owl at ZooMontana

But Ewelt said there’s nothing to fear—and after the eclipse—animals will return to their normal selves.

"Animals are not going to turn apocalyptic so you’re not going to have a ‘Birds’ scenario where everything’s going crazy. That won’t happen," Ewelt said with a laugh. "But we’ll watch and we’ll let you know if there is anything."

To learn more about the solar eclipse, click here.