These 17 Photos Show Nocturnal Animals in Action

While humans sleep, these critters enjoy the nightlife.

possum eating banana in backyard at night
Australian brushtail possum having a midnight snack.

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It's easy to forget that while we humans and many other species are active by day, there are millions of species that are nocturnal, meaning they are active primarily at night. When the sun sets, the party is just getting started for an array of nighttime animals, from large mammals to tiny frogs.

Here are some of the many species that make the night something special, including a few you might just see or hear in your backyard. Not all of them are strictly nocturnal, but each spends at least some of its time hunting, scavenging, or flying under the night sky.

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Badger sniffing log at night
Badgers are rarely seen during the day.

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Badgers come out at night to feast; an adult badger could consume up to 200 earthworms in a single night. That said, badgers are omnivores and will take advantage of any number of available foods, including fallen fruits, bulbs, snails and slugs, vegetables, and even small mammals.

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bat flying above water at night
Bats fly low over water for a sip to drink.

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Bats are one of the most famous nocturnal animals. They are the only mammals capable of flight, and they head out at night to feast on insects, fruit, and nectar—depending on the species. Insect-eating bats are an invaluable part of pest control (one bat can eat between 600 and 1,000 mosquitoes and other insects in a single hour); fruit-eating bats are key for seed dispersal; nectar-eating bats play an important part in pollination.

While bats are known for their skill in flying through dark night skies to catch insects, they also must drop for a sip of water now and again. To do this, they let out high-pitched squeaks and listen carefully for the echoes that return. Certain echo patterns of those will indicate when they are flying over a surface that is likely to be a body of water.

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Crab-Eating Fox

crab-eating fox looking for food at night
The crab-eating fox spends its nights searching for its next meal.

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After spending all day in a den, the crab-eating fox comes out in the dark of night to forage for a wide range of prey, from frogs and lizards to rabbits and fish. True to their name, during the wet season, this South American species also seeks out crabs and other crustaceans as midnight snacks.

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small dormouse perched on berry branch
A tiny dormouse explores the branch of a rowan tree.

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The dormouse is famously adorable. Found mostly snoozing and looking cute during the day, it is a nocturnal species that can be found scurrying along the branches of trees for a meal of fruits, flowers, nuts, and insects. Though dormice are active at night, it's only for a small portion of the year — they can hibernate for up to six months at a time.

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Yellow frog in pond at night
Frogs and toads offer up a nightly chorus during the mating season.

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What do frogs get up to at night? During the breeding season, it's a whole lot of singing. As day turns to dusk, many nocturnal species of frog and toad start to tune up. As the night deepens, their voices come together in a chorus. All this singing in the spring and summer is done to attract a mate. A bonus is that nocturnal activity is also a smart move for staying safe, as fewer predators are able to find a frog in the dark.

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white-tailed deer with glowing eyes
Deer are active at dusk and dawn, and sometimes roam into the wee hours of the night.

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Deer are mainly crepuscular, which means they are active mostly at dawn and dusk. But often, deer will also roam at night in order to avoid contact with humans or other potential dangers.

While deer do not have a particularly strong sense of sight during the day, their vision improves significantly at night, allowing them to see much better than humans can. The makeup of their eyes that allows for this is also the reason why they glow when illuminated at night.

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small desert hedgehog sitting among tall grass
The desert hedgehog is a nocturnal resident of Arabian deserts.

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By day, hedgehogs curl up and snooze away out of the sunlight. When dusk falls, they wake and start rooting around the undergrowth and, yes, hedges looking for food. They make grunting sounds as they forage, hence the name hedgehog.

While some animal species have evolved to develop especially good eyesight for nocturnal activity, this is not the case with these prickly little creatures. Hedgehogs instead have weak eyesight and rely on their senses of hearing and smell to find food.

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cute kinkajou hiding in jungle leaves
Adorable kinkajous can be found in the trees of Southern Belize.

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The kinkajou is native to Central and South America and is also known as a "honey bear." Though it is an adorable species that many humans would like to watch in the wild, it is rarely seen because it is strictly nocturnal — it is in the dark of night that it climbs through the trees looking for fruit. Figs are among their favorites to feast on.

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kiwi bird surrounded by leaves at night
Kiwi are flightless birds that are also active at night.

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This New Zealand native has nostrils at the end of its bill to better smell through leaf litter and find food. Kiwis hunt at night because that's when many of the invertebrates they feed on move up from underground to the surface of the soil. In other words, nocturnal activity makes it easier to snag a snack. Research has also shown that the kiwi actually evolved to be nocturnal to avoid competition for resources in the daytime with the giant moa (an extinct flightless bird also native to New Zealand).

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tarsier with big eyes climbing branch
An endangered Horsfield's tarsier hangs out in the jungles of Borneo.

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If you ever walk through the forests of Southeast Asia at night and feel like there are giant eyes staring at you from the forest, there probably are. The tarsier is famous for its enormous eyes, which can be larger than its entire brain. They have the largest eyes relative to body size of any mammal.

A tarsier uses its huge eyes to see insects, lizards, frogs, and other prey in the dark of the night. When hunting, it uses its climbing skills to pounce after prey.

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leopard drinking water from pond at night
Beware when wandering the jungle at night, as leopards are famous for being stealthy hunters.

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Leopards, like many feline species, get up to all sorts of trouble under the cover of nighttime darkness. They travel their territory and stalk prey, often dragging their kill up a tree for safekeeping, well away from other animals that might try to steal it. They are also strong swimmers, and may even fish for a meal.

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opossum walking along fence at night.
Opossums are common nighttime backyard visitors.

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The opossum frequents backyards by night, and if you leave a bird feeder, pet food, or other snacks out, don't be surprised if you see one sniffing around to partake. But don't worry: You actually want one of these creatures in your yard. The opossum is a wonderful tool for pest control, as they gobble up grubs, snails, slugs, beetles, and other insects you want to rid from your garden.

While an opossum's eyes appear black, they are not—the pupils are just very dilated. All the better to see in the dark!

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flying white barn owl landing on fence post
The barn owl is one of the most widespread owl species in the world.

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Owls are amazingly evolved for nighttime activity. From their tube-shaped eyes to their asymmetrical ears, the unique anatomy of these raptors allows them to skillfully pinpoint prey at night, even if it's a tiny mouse among thick grass. Their flight feathers are also specially constructed to allow for essentially silent flight, so their prey doesn't hear them coming, even during the quiet night hours.

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small porcupine standing in grass at night
Porcupines don't need to be afraid of the dark when they have such impressive armor.

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This spiky forager is nocturnal and well-adapted to defend itself against other nighttime hunters. While porcupine species in Europe, Asia, and Africa are strictly nocturnal, the species found in North and South America are a little more lenient with their schedules and may be spotted during daylight hours.

Though they seem slow and lumbering, North American porcupines are able to climb trees quite well—just in case the quills alone aren't enough to ward off a predator.

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two raccoons sleeping on wood railing
Raccoons aren't always the nighttime mischief makers they're known to be.

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The nocturnal bandit is notorious for getting into trouble around residential areas. Raccoons are amazingly clever and great at breaking into trash cans, food bins, and other places where goodies are locked away. Because they are active at night, having a family of raccoons living in your roof or basement can be a very noisy problem. But don't worry, sometimes even these energetic creatures need some downtime at night.

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civet walking in grass at night
The large Indian civet is a nighttime prowler of south and southeast Asia.

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The civet may look like an unusual cat species, but it actually isn't related to cats at all; it is more related to mongooses. Civets are most active between late evening and midnight, as well as around dawn. They feed primarily on fruit, which is why at night you can find them in trees and other high places.

This small mammal is found in Africa and Asia, and you may just smell one before you see one. They are known for having a musky odor, which is why the African civet species has been used in perfumery.

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Red Fox

red fox climbs along fence at night
Red foxes are active at night to stay safe from humans.

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Some fox species can be active at any time of the day but stick to nocturnality in order to live in or around urban settings. Such is the case with the red fox. In rural places, this species can be spotted any time of the day, though they are mostly active at dusk and dawn. But in the city, red foxes stick to a nighttime schedule, which allows them to avoid the danger that humans (and their cars) present.

View Article Sources
  1. Le Duc, Diana et al. "Kiwi Genome Provides Insights Into Evolution Of A Nocturnal Lifestyle". Genome Biology, vol 16, no. 1, 2015. Springer Science And Business Media LLC, doi:10.1186/s13059-015-0711-4