How our fellow creatures will react to a day without sun
By Ed Kanze
Little does the sun know the moon has designs on it, creeping across the sky day by day, night by night, month by month, incrementally, circling and edging toward the afternoon not so far off, on April 8, 2024, when our planet’s dry, dusty, all-natural, free-range satellite will slide right over the solar disk, blotting it out completely.
In my neck of the woods in the Adirondacks, just over the McKenzie Range from Lake Placid, the moon will make night of day for a few minutes.
Most of us humans, informed by astronomers what is about to come, will watch not with fear, as the populace did in H. Rider Haggard’s epic 19th century novel “King Solomon’s Mines,” but with astonishment and wonder. But how will wild things react, especially to the part of the eclipse known as totality? We don’t know. Yet we can make educated guesses. The fragmentary record from previous eclipses elsewhere gives clues as to what might happen here.
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What you need to know about the total solar eclipse, which will be seen in totality over the Adirondack region.
As night descends in mid-afternoon, the temperature will drop, perhaps as much as five degrees. Humidity will rise, just as it does during a routine nightfall. Day-active mammals such as red squirrels and eastern chipmunks may cease their activities and withdraw to sleeping quarters in trees or underground. Butterflies may take shelter, dragonflies perch and rest and allow the daytime warmth of their blood to cool, garter snakes retreat to insulating cover in forest duff, and songbirds and other day-active fliers slip into their nightly bivouacs.
As for night creatures, we can watch and listen for surges in their activity. Adirondack mammals tend to be more nocturnal than diurnal, so we might note the emergence of bats, deer mice, voles, shrews, flying squirrels, snowshoe hares, and predators out to hunt them—coyotes, gray fox, red fox, bobcats, martens and fishers.
If I were sitting or standing during the eclipse along a lakeshore or streambank or at the edge of a pond, or if I was floating in a boat, I’d have my eyes peeled for mink, beavers, otters and muskrats. I might also shine a light in the water to see if night-active crayfish, caddisfly larvae, leeches and bullhead catfish have come out to feed.
Some of the greatest drama arising from the eclipse, I expect, will be staged by frogs. Those that have risen from hibernacula by early April will be out hunting for the moths, mosquitoes and other night insects that will surely emerge. And since April is a month during which several of our frogs sing to establish territories and woo mates, I’d expect those of us near wetlands and shallow water bodies to enjoy midafternoon earfuls of amphibian choral performances—mainly by wood frogs, which quack somewhat like mallards, and spring peepers, which peep but in the aggregate sound like sleigh bells.
And there could be more. The shorter winters and earlier springs we’re experiencing as the climate warms could cue other voices, among them the long, sweet trills of American toads, the soft snoring of pickerel frogs, the longer and more robust snores of northern leopard frogs and the abrupt guttural banjo plucking of green frogs.
Farm animals will surely respond to the darkening in interesting ways, too. Dairy cows may gather and head back to barns, swine may retreat to sties and chickens and domestic ducks and domestic geese may take to coops and quack-houses and gooseries.
As for the farm animal made famous by E.B. White, the barn orb-weaving spider, Charlotte, might commence building a web as the eclipse progresses, as many orb-weavers do at nightfall, only to find herself inclined to devour the web minutes later, as nocturnal orb-weavers often do at daybreak. I expect Charlottes will find the solar eclipse vexing.
Edward Kanze writes about the natural world for the Explorer.
Photo at top: A frog hides along the shoreline. Explorer file photo by Mike Lynch
This article appeared in the current issue of Adirondack Explorer magazine.
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