Nocturnal animals are species that are most active at night while resting or hiding during the day. They have adapted in various ways to navigate the dark, including to hunt and find mates. Some species prefer to stay away from the daytime heat, while others take advantage of the dark to avoid predators. Read on to learn about 12 random examples of nocturnal animals, including interesting facts about how they navigate the night.
12 examples of nocturnal animals
Check out this list of 12 nocturnal animals common in North America that only come out at night.
1. American badger
Scientific name: Taxidea taxus
American badgers are solitary animals that hunt at night and sleep in their dens during the day. They have a strong sense of smell, sight, and hearing and are known for their incredible digging abilities. You’ll commonly see them digging after their prey, such as prairie dogs, moles, and voles. You can typically find them in the Great Plains region of the U.S. where they prefer open fields, grasslands, or pastures.
2. Southern flying squirrels
Scientific name: Glaucomys volans
There’s little surprise if you’ve never seen a flying squirrel since they are most active at night. The southern flying squirrel is one of two species native to the U.S. They live in the eastern states, ranging from Maine to Florida and Texas.
The membrane between their back and front legs that allows them to glide from one tree to another makes them less nimble on their feet than non-flying squirrels. By being nocturnal, these squirrels can avoid common predators such as dogs, cats, and birds of prey.
3. Virginia opossum
Scientific subfamily: Didelphis virginiana
The Virginia opossum is the only marsupial species in North America. They can be found on the west coast and most states east of the Rocky Mountains. When hunting for food at night, they use their great senses of smell, touch, and hearing to find and evaluate their food. Insects, rodents, birds, and dead animals make up most of their diet. During the day, they’ll sleep in abandoned rodent burrows or hollow trees.
4. Barn owl
Scientific name: Tyto alba
Contrary to popular belief, not all owls hunt at night. However, the barn owl is one species that is fully nocturnal. Their eyesight has adapted to nighttime living, allowing them to see up to 100 times better in the dark than humans. They can also stalk their prey using sophisticated hearing abilities that let them map out their vertical and horizontal space.
They get their names because they often nest in human structures, such as barns. However, you’ll also find these owls nesting in trees, caves, cliff ledges, burrows in river banks, church steeples, or drive-in movie screens. They are the most widespread owl species, living on every continent except Antarctica.
Scientific name: Procyon lotor
When wandering around at night, raccoons rely heavily on their intelligence and keen senses to find food. Their nimble fingers also have whiskers at the tips of their paws, giving them a strong sense of touch to help them process their environment. In a way, you could say these animals see with their hands. You can find raccoons throughout the U.S. except for portions of the Rocky Mountains and southwestern states like Arizona, Utah, and Nevada.
6. Mountain lion
Scientific name: Puma concolor
Most mountain lions, also known as cougars, are nocturnal. However, some are crepuscular, meaning they prefer the early dawn and late twilight hours. Their large eyes combined with whiskers on their face and paws that have sensitive nerve endings help them see clearly at night and sense their surroundings when locating prey. They live in almost every North American habitat, ranging from deserts and forests to canyons and mountains.
7. Nine-banded armadillos
Scientific name: Dasypus novemcinctus
The nine-banded armadillo is the only armadillo species you can find in the United States. They range from southern U.S. states down through Central America to northern Argentina. Active mostly at night to burrow or find food, these animals use their strong sense of smell to locate their next meal. Their diet mostly consists of insects or worms.
8. Hoary bat
Scientific name: Lasiurus cinereus
The hoary bat is a forest-dwelling species that’s the most widespread in the Americas. These bats usually hunt for insects, moths, and other bats before sunset and return to their nest before sunrise. They’ll hang upside down from trees with one foot and use their furry tails to wrap themselves like a sleeping bag.
They are also migratory bats that don’t hibernate in large colonies. Instead, they fly to warmer habitats during the winter, being able to hit speeds of 13 miles per hour. These bats can navigate the night with echolocation, where they use sound reflections to locate objects around them.
9. American red foxes
Scientific name: Vulpes vulpes fulvus
You can find the red fox in various habitats throughout the U.S. and Canada, including forests, swamps, and farmlands. Their incredible eyesight makes them excellent nighttime predators. Behind their light-sensitive eye cells, they have an additional layer that reflects light back through their eye and doubles the intensity of the images they see. They mostly eat small rodents, insects, birds, berries, and dead animals.
10. Luna moth
Scientific name: Actias luna
Although most moths are nocturnal, the luna moth is probably one of the most beautiful and unique-looking nighttime fliers. They are large and green with long tails on each back wing. The shape of their wings scatters reflected sounds to confuse predators like bats that use echolocation.
Another interesting fact is their main purpose in life is to reproduce and they die after around a week. Mating usually occurs after midnight. These moths typically live east of the Great Plains from Maine to Florida.
11. Arizona bark scorpion
Scientific name: Centruroides sculpturatus
The Arizona bark scorpion is common in the Sonoran Desert in the southwest U.S. They are small light brown scorpions growing around 2.75 to 3.14 inches. Fascinatingly enough, they glow a fluorescent bluish-green under ultraviolet light, including moonlight. Scientists believe this helps them find mates in the dark and protects them like sunscreen. During the day, they typically hide from the heat under woodpiles, tree bark, and rocks.
Scientific family: Lampyridae
Nocturnal fireflies, also called lightning bugs, are actually flying beetles popular for their ability to glow at night. A chemical reaction inside their bodies produces light in a process called bioluminescence. They are incredibly efficient since 100% of the energy from the chemical reaction becomes light. Typically, the males are glowing and flashing to attract attention from females.