Lunar and solar eclipses make animals do strange things

For most animals, the structure of their day – and indeed their year – depends on the light-dark cycle.

These regular and rhythmic cycles in the length of days tell animals when they should be foraging, when they should be asleep, when it’s time to migrate and when it’s time to breed. Animals can tell all this from how many hours of daylight they experience, but the moon’s cycles also strongly influence their behaviour.

The lunar synodic cycle – the moon’s regular journey from full moon to full moon again over 28 nights – causes changes in the Earth’s magnetic field, the moon’s gravitational pull on Earth, and light levels at night. Many species can detect this and use it to synchronise their breeding. Mass spawning in corals sees tens of millions of eggs released at once on reefs to coincide with full or new moons. But what happens to animals when the moon or the sun does something unusual or unexpected, such as an eclipse?

Of all the cosmic events, solar eclipses prompt perhaps the biggest change in animal behaviour. Puzzled animals that are active during the day head back to their nighttime abodes while nocturnal animals think they’ve overslept. A solar eclipse occurs when the sun, moon and Earth are aligned on the same axis so that the moon completely blocks the sun. Around the world, unusual incidences of behaviour are usually reported while everyone else is watching the eclipse.

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