CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Since the opening of the Lemur Forest exhibit earlier this year, the Tennessee Aquarium’s ring-tailed and red-ruffed lemurs have demonstrated time and again that they’re keenly aware of what’s going on above them.
Ring-tails, in particular, also are well-known for adopting a yoga-like posture to bask in pools of sunlight — an act known as “sun worshipping.”
So how will these sky-watching, light-loving animals react during the two minutes of darkness on Aug. 21 as the Southeast experiences its first total solar eclipse in nearly a century?
From grunting lemurs to quieter birds, Aquarium staff predictions and research from past eclipses suggest many of the reactions guests might observe on Aug. 21 could be heard rather than seen.
Visitors interested in witnessing these responses should head to the Tropical Cove, Appalachian Cove Forest and Mississippi Delta Country. The Aquarium’s three Living Forest galleries feature abundant natural light flowing through both buildings’ distinctive glass “peaks.” As such, animals in these spaces are most likely to react to the sun’s temporary disappearance.
Animal care specialist Jennifer Wawra says the turtle species in Delta Country may not noticeably respond to the eclipse, but the American Alligators there could react to the sudden darkening by bellowing, much as they do during thunderstorms.
In the Appalachian Cove Forest, the native songbirds that fly freely through the gallery are likely to become much quieter during the eclipse. Anecdotal reports and numerous videos available online from eclipses around the world show birds reacting to the sun’s disappearance by dramatically reducing their singing. During a total solar eclipse in Japan on July 22, 2009, researchers found the calling of birds dropped from 16.4 “songs” per minute to absolute silence during the eclipse’s period of totality.
Because of the rarity of total solar eclipses, research into how they impact animal behavior is limited. Staff members plan to set up video cameras that will record the lemurs’ reaction to the sun’s disappearance, and guests can engage in a bit of citizen science of their own by monitoring the animals’ responses first-hand.
Chattanooga lies just south of the eclipse’s path of totality, the region where the sun will be completely obscured. With the proper protective viewing equipment, however, visitors to the aquarium will be able to marvel as 99 percent of the sun’s light is blocked for more than two minutes. Locally, the eclipse will begin at 1:02 p.m. with 99.55 percent of the light being obscured at 2:32 p.m. According to NASA records, the last time any part of the Southeast was in the path of a total solar eclipse was June 1918.
Visitors to the aquarium on Aug. 21 are invited to watch NASA’s Eclipse 2017 “megacast” noon to 3 p.m. in the auditorium of the River Journey building. This live streamed event will feature images captured before, during and after the eclipse by three NASA aircraft, more than 50 high-altitude balloons as well astronauts onboard the International Space Station.
Note: Despite the apparent lack of sunlight, looking directly at the sun during an eclipse can damage your eyesight. Those interested in watching this astronomical rarity can purchase special eclipse glasses in the Aquarium’s gift shops while supplies last. These frames have been approved for solar eclipse viewing thanks to special lenses that reduce the amount of light being transmitted to safe levels.
The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder, appreciation and protection of water and all life that it sustains. Admission is $29.95 per adult and $18.95 per child, ages 3-12. Each ticket purchased helps support Aquarium conservation programs. The IMAX® 3D Theater is next door to the Aquarium. Ticket prices are $11.95 per adult and $9.95 per child. Aquarium/IMAX combo tickets are $37.95 for adults and $26.95 for children. Excursions aboard the new River Gorge Explorer depart daily into “Tennessee’s Grand Canyon.” Cruise tickets are $32.00 per adult and $24.50 per child (3-12). Advance tickets may be purchased online at www.tnaqua.org or by phone at 1-800-262-0695. The Aquarium, located on the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, is a non-profit organization. Open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Aquarium and IMAX are accessible to people with disabilities.