Buzzkill: Why bees fell silent during the 2017 solar eclipse
Last year’s solar eclipse made animals do some strange things. And it turns out bees acted unusually, too.
A study published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America found that bees fell silent amid the August 2017 eclipse. Researchers studied how bees would react to the eclipse by choosing 11 locations in the U.S. that fell in the eclipse’s path of totality.
They set up microphones on plants such as sunflowers, thistle and goldenbush to catch their reaction.
The study explained that the bees were buzzing before and after the totality of the eclipse, but were almost completely silent when the moon completely covered the sun.
“During 3-min clips at totality, the 16 microphones hidden among flowers in geographically isolated regions captured a soundtrack comprised almost entirely of silence,” the study read.
“Only one buzz interrupted the quiet.”
During totality, they heard one buzz in three minutes across 16 microphones. At other times, they were buzzes across 14 mics every few minutes.
Less buzzing means the bees stopped flying, the study explained.
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Candace Galen, a biological sciences professor at the University of Missouri who led the research, said in a news release that they were expecting a difference in behaviour but nothing this dramatic.
“We had not expected that the change would be so abrupt, that bees would continue flying up until totality and only then stop, completely,” Galen said. “It was like ‘lights out’ at summer camp.”
Bees typically fly more in daylight and return to colonies at night, which is why researchers believe a total eclipse of the sun got them confused.
“As we found, complete darkness elicits the same behavior in bees, regardless of timing or context. And that’s new information about bee cognition,” Galen explained.
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While Galen’s research focused on bees, many other animals were observed to act strangely during the eclipse.
At the Nashville Zoo, the giraffes were the stars.
“They’re crazy running around,” one visitor explained.
Zookeepers reported that before totality the orangutans climbed to the highest heights they’ve ever gone.
The rhinos wandered a bit confused, then went to bed early.
According to the National Geographic, several historical accounts have also noted animals’ peculiar behaviour, but research is difficult to conduct because the events are rare.
The magazine reported that accounts of unusual animal behaviour date back to the year 1239, when Italian monk Ristoro d’Arezzo wrote “all the animals and birds were terrified.”
— With files from The Associated Press
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