Farm animals lunacy-free as eclipse passes across country
(Aug. 29, 2017) When millions of people across the country stopped what they were doing last week to watch a solar eclipse as it slowly cut a 70-mile-wide, cross-country diagonal from the Northwest to the Southeast, some expressed concern about how animals and livestock would react to the rare cosmic coincidence.
In the Delmarva region, at least, not much seemed to happen.
“They responded the same way,” said Marilyn Edwards, co-owner of Windhaven Farm in Windsor, Va., hours after the Aug. 21 eclipse concluded.
Her farm has about 350 cows.
The livestock “just kept on eating. … We got a couple dogs, and they didn’t react either.”
Daniela Ciarapica, a bookkeeper at Chesapeake Bay Farms in Pocomoke City, Md., said also she noticed little reaction from the farm’s livestock.
“The employees were acting a little more crazy,” she joked.
In the Washington, D.C., region, the partial eclipse began at about 1:17 p.m., peaked before 3 p.m. and ended shortly after 4 p.m.
The sun, obstructed by the moon, dimmed noticeably, and millions of curious people left their offices and classrooms across the country, put on eclipse glasses to safely watch the sun slowly turn into what resembled a glowing orange slice.
Seeing the eclipse as a unique research opportunity, Tim Reinbott, director of field operations at the University of Missouri’s South Farm Research Center in Columbia, said he gathered and observed horses, chickens and various mimosa plants as the eclipse reached totality over the central Missourian town where the effects were more pronounced.
“The foals after totality got really frisky,” he said. “They got pretty excited about it. They knew something was different.”
Chickens also ventured outside after several minutes as the temperature rapidly dropped under the vanishing sun.
“In totality, they started cleaning each other, which is what they often do before they go to roost,” Reinbott said. “Then it got hot again, and they went in to roost.”
Reactions from the mimosa plants — which are extra responsive to changes in light — were more interesting, he said.
Before the eclipse, he exposed some plants to 72 hours of light and others to 72 hours of darkness to break their circadian rhythm, the so-called “body clock” that regulates plants’ physiological processes.
Without interrupting that rhythm, Reinbott said he wondered if the plants would simply ignore the eclipse.
“We thought in the middle of the day, if it gets dark, their internal clock goes, ‘No, we still have six hours of light until sundown,’” he said.
But those plants didn’t visibly respond to the eclipse while mimosa plants under natural conditions did by opening during the event.
“It was the opposite of what we thought would happen, but it’s interesting,” he said.
Corn and soybeans also reacted much as they do during sundown, he said. The university plans to use the research to make educational videos for students that show how plants react to their environment.
“We knew this was a very unique opportunity, and so many times when we do educational material, it’s under artificial conditions,” Reinbott said.
It also could be the kickoff for additional research into mimosa plants.
He said he’s already anticipating the next solar eclipse, which will pass from Texas to Maine, including southeastern Missouri, in April 2024.
But don’t expect much in the Delmarva region.
When a reporter called Teri Peterson of Cedar Run Farm in Sudlersville, Md., just after the eclipse, inquiring about her cows and pigs, it was a quick exchange.
“They’re just out in the field,” she said.
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