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If we could talk to the animals, what would they tell us about April's eclipse in Ohio?

An AudioMoth recording device being placed into a protective plastic bag outdoors.
Courtesy of Eclipse Soundscapes
The small but powerful AudioMoth recording device can be deployed outdoors to record the soundscapes of an ecosystem during an eclipse.

Most humans in Northeast Ohio are probably well aware of the April 8 solar eclipse where the path of totality will but parts of the state in completely darkness for several minutes mid-afternoon. And while many have been planning for the day, what will be the reaction of animals unprepared for the sudden change?

Scientists believe the sounds of chirping birds, croaking frogs and animals preparing their morning or night routines, are expected to accompany the eclipse. But to gather more data about what will happen and get a better understanding of why, researchers have launched citizen science projects across the state. They include efforts by the Ohio Natural Resource Department’s Wildlife Division using the iNaturalist app and Eclipse Soundscapesfunded by the NASA Science Activation program.

Jen Dennison, the Ohio Natural Resource Department’s Wildlife Division’s Education and Outreach Manager, says the iNaturalist program is observation based and can be utilized by people anywhere in Ohio, though preferably those in the path of totality, from backyards to state and national parks.

“For us, it was an outreach program just to get people engaged and to make observations about local wildlife,” Dennison said. Because chances are, they wouldn't even have thought to see what wildlife was doing during the eclipse.”

The program requires participants to download the iNaturalist app and set up an account, join the eclipse project and add their eclipse-viewing location.

On the day of the eclipse, participants can choose the animal or organism they plan to study and make three observations for each individually on sights and sounds 30 minutes before the eclipse, during the eclipse and 30 minutes after the eclipse.

“It's all collected by people like us,” Dennison said. “Who then look for pattern changes and things like that.”

While the iNaturalist’s program remains mostly observational based with participants having the option to include photos or videos, NASA’s Eclipse Soundscapes will focus on both observations and recorded audio to study similar patterns.

The Akron Zoo plans to participate and encourage its visitors to participate in NASA's Eclipse Soundscapes project.

According to Carrie Bassett, the zoo’s education mission manager, Eclipse Soundscapes consists of two parts. In the first, participants receive an AudioMoth, a small recording device to be set up two days before the eclipse and left out two days after to record the sounds of animals.

“When you're done, you send the memory card from the recorder to Eclipse soundscapes, and they will eventually evaluate all that data that they get in from everywhere across the United States,” Bassett said.

In the second part, visitors, staff and volunteers at the zoo, will be asked to write down observations at 10-minute intervals before, during and after the peak of totality.

According to Bassett, these observations may include the sight of diurnal or daytime animals getting ready to sleep or eat for the night, nocturnal or nighttime animals beginning to wake up, frogs starting their “night chorus” and birds beginning to “roost,” or settle in for the night.

The effects of the eclipse are expected to be short-lived.

“It seems from the studies that have been done that most of the animals it will disrupt them just for those few minutes and then they kind of, go oh never mind the sun's back out and kind of shake it off and go back to the normal day-to-day business,” Bassett said.

Jen Dennison from ODNR echoed this sentiment.

“We don't expect any crazy behaviors,” Dennison said. “What we're going to see is nocturnal animals behaving nocturnal, and diurnal are daytime animals behaving diurnally.”

Studies dating back to the 1500’s have identified this kind of behavior, including a 1932 study that Eclipse Soundscapes is based on. But both Dennison and Bassett said that much can still be learned.

“I do think it's interesting because we're not 100% sure if it is the daytime piece, the light piece that is igniting these behaviors in the animals or if it's the temperature because they do go hand in hand,” Bassett said.

How and when to participate

The Akron Zoo plans to have participants engage in the project during their “Total Eclipse of the Zoo” event, happening on the day of the eclipse and during the hours that the total eclipse will put Akron into total darkness. They will have a number of AudioMoths placed around the zoo for use by visitors to the zoo.

Dennison says anyone interested in the iNaturalist program can be sign up for on the app as late as the day of the eclipse.

“It’ll be an interesting way for us as an agency to collect information for any future research projects we might be involved in,” Dennison said. “So, it's a double win for us and for the public.”

Data from the iNaturalist project will be made available on their app, while data from the Eclipse Soundscapes project will be available on the Rainforest Connection database, both of which will be accessible to the public.

Mariah Alanskas is a news intern at Ideastream Public Media.