Monday, September 4, 2017

Guinea Pigs and Solar Eclipses

Humans here in the United States caught eclipse-mania a few weeks ago due to the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. Do guinea pigs react to solar eclipses? Is there anything you should be concerned about when they happen?

Because animals behave differently during night and day, as you can imagine, they can get confused during a solar eclipse and behave as if it suddenly became night time. According to a National Geographic article, "modern astronomers and eclipse chasers have also reported wild and domestic animals noticeably reacting to eclipses: Dairy cows return to the barn, crickets begin chirping, birds either go to roost or become more active, and whales breach in the seas."

There's actually an app for nature-loving humans called iNaturalist that allows users to record their observations of nature, and during the eclipse, they had a special project called "Life Responds" to systematically track how animals responded to the solar eclipse. Unfortunately, while there were plenty of dog and cat observations, we did not find any guinea pig observations in the project records. However, there were some observations of our distant relatives on the evolutionary family tree:
  • Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - "No squirrels were seen - but there was A LOT of squirrel chatter all at once at 2:41pm! Reminded me of their warning call when a snake or raptor is about."
  • Domestic Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus ssp. domesticus) - "Grooming itself and eating, which it usually does around 4 PM"
  • California Ground Squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi) - "Squirrels bothered tourists as usual during the eclipse."
Kind of a mixed bag here, but looks like a lot of our distant cousins didn't even notice the eclipse.

On a related note, is there anything you should be concerned with regarding a solar eclipse? Humans have been very concerned about eye damage from looking up at the solar eclipse without proper eye protection, causing a condition called solar retinopathy. This can happen from staring at the sun during regular times, although ordinarily, your body feels pain and tells you to stop it. Is this a concern for guinea pigs? There was a debate about this on the Guinea Lynx Forum:
  • WindeSpirit: "I've been seeing a number of things about folks protecting their dogs & cats from the upcoming eclipse, but nothing about for the other indoor animals... In particular, those that have a window close to them or access to seeing out of, specially from floor height. Please take a simple precaution measure and close blinds, hang up sheets if need to.  Remember, piggies can play statue so easy, and sleeping with eyes open? One can only guess at what sort of damage that could potentially happen to them, and their sight is poor enough as it is. Better not to risk it with such a easy thing to do."
  • Kimera: "I don't understand what you are afraid of. Eclipse reduces the amount of sunlight, not making it stronger or more dangerous in any way. Eye protection, for example, very dark glasses, are necessary only for curious people who want to look directly at the sun to observe the eclipse."
  • crowcrash: "For future reference: The concern is that because the light is more dim, animals will look up or stare at the sun because it doesn't hurt to look up at it. But it will still damage their eyes."
  • kailaeve1271: "I am late as well, but I should let everyone know animals do not naturally look at the sky for no reason except if they sense a bird or something in a tree. Animals don't just stare at the sun. They just assume it is getting late outside. Trust me your animals are safe."
  • WindeSpirit: "To answer, what I am afraid of during eclipses? A piggy who normally sleeps in their safe and happy sunny spot suddenly starts bumping into things as if she had a stroke. Unless any one of the tests afterwards came back a false negative, which was unlikely. The vets only other conclusion was to ask about the partial eclipses, access to sun & exact day it started, that was both positive. We could only figure that the lack of sun allowed whatever natural instincts for her eye to look towards the sun, and assumed she was asleep when it happened since that would have been the ideal position, not to mention the position she usually was in, while in her sunning spot. Perhaps the shadow on her made her think I was standing outside and her eye naturally gravitated? ...The point is, there are times where enough of circumstances happen that can get a animal to look up... the piggy I was speaking about above was our Cotton princess. She lived a long and happy life, though she didn't sunbath as much the following 4-5 years, I ended up having to get a sun lamp."
So it sounds to us like guinea pigs probably don't care much of about solar eclipses (us two being the exception since we write a blog that makes us interested in just about anything guinea pig related), and will probably just ignore it. But there's at least one anecdote of a guinea pig being hurt by a solar eclipse, so it might be worth taking a moment to block off windows during the next one.
Although the risk is slim, it wouldn't hurt to take precautions to protect my eyes!
It will be some time before the next solar eclipse, but it's still something to keep in mind!

1 comment:

  1. If only we could protect our eyes from those nasty hay pokes!