Florida is home to an insanely wide variety of animals, from the beaches to the swamps to the dense forests of the Panhandle. With such a diverse environment, the species that live here are just as unique with many species, such as the Florida Panther, only found here. Of all these species, the nocturnal animals in Florida are especially interesting as they all possess unique adaptations and abilities that suit them best for the darkness.
9 Nocturnal Animals in Florida
There are many, many nocturnal animals in the state of Florida. In this article we’ll take a quick look at 9 animals found in Florida that prefer the night over the day and give a few fun facts about each one.
There is only one raccoon species in Florida, and it sports the traditional black mask across its eyes which makes it easily identifiable. Raccoons have adapted very well to urban settings and oftentimes prefer to rummage through garbage, as they possess remarkably dexterous hands, rather than forage for natural foods.
The raccoon typically sleeps in the trees during the day and prefers to become active in the late afternoon and stay awake throughout the night. They have a home range of approximately a mile that they prefer to roam in, and usually have multiple den sites within this range.
Opossums are incredibly common throughout the United States, and Florida is no exception. They’re more populous in Southern Florida, but are highly adaptable and capable of surviving just about anywhere. This non-aggressive marsupial, the only one in North America, is incredibly beneficial to local ecosystems.
Opossums, as far as we know, are immune to rabies. They actually pose a far lower health risk to humans and have a high level of immunity to other diseases as well. Because of this immunity, they have great value as carrion eaters and will eat things other animals wouldn’t be able to, such as over-ripe fruit, cockroaches, slugs, and any uneaten food that would otherwise attract rats.
3. Nine-Banded Armadillo
Armadillos are actually the most significant nuisance pests in Florida, along with much of the Southeast. They’re an invasive species that drastically decreases sea turtle numbers by eating their eggs, and can also cause many structural instabilities while they dig their burrows around foundations. Armadillos have been slowly moving north into other U.S. states.
If you see one of these animals at night, it’s best not to approach it. Nine-banded Armadillos are the only animal other than humans that are capable of hosting the bacteria that causes Leprosy, and the method of transmission is not well understood. This is especially concerning because as an invasive species, their population numbers are only growing, which increases the number of interactions they have with humans.
Florida actually has 13 recognized native species of bats, although at least 20 different species have been found throughout the state. All bats within Florida are insectivores, meaning they eat a lot of moths, flies, dragonflies, beetles, wasps, ants, mosquitoes, and many more. Most bats can eat their body weight in insects every night.
Because caves are hard to come by within this state, bats will often find shelter in man-made structures, such as buildings and bridges. They’ve also been known to nest on the undersides of palm fronds and in Spanish moss. Bats are most well known for their echolocation, which allows them to locate prey even on the darkest night.
Florida is home to six species of year-round owls, plus four seasonal species such as the Snowy Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Long-eared Owl, and Flammulated Owl, which are all rare but not unheard of within the state.
The most common owl species found here are the Barn Owl, Barred Owl, Burrowing Owl, Eastern Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl, and Short-eared Owl. These are all nocturnal hunters and have a wide variety in their diet. A nesting pair of owls is capable of capturing and eating thousands of small rodents per year, and are favorites on farms and homesteads for their exterminating abilities.
Owls are nocturnal, so they have fantastic eyesight and hearing to assist with hunting. Their ears are placed slightly off-center of one another so that the owl can most accurately pinpoint the location of their prey, even in pitch black. Their specialized feathers are also adapted to the night, as they silence their approach and allow them to be incredibly stealthy when hunting.
There are two species of foxes that live in Florida – the Red Fox and the Gray Fox. The two are commonly mistaken for one another, as the gray fox has a fair amount of both gray and red fur, and they’re both incredibly similar. The biggest difference is in the fur color and the location, with the Red Fox preferring the northern climate while the Gray Fox prefers the south. They aren’t native to Florida and were instead introduced to the panhandle by hunting clubs, but neither are classified as invasive species and have adapted to their niche well.
Foxes are relatively shy, so they prefer to forage nocturnally and use their superior eyesight and hearing to catch mice, rats, and rabbits. They are omnivores and will happily supplement their diet with fruits, berries, and even insects! They’re also the only animal in the dog family that’s capable of climbing trees and prefers to stay in wooded areas.
When you think of animals in Florida, the world’s largest rodent isn’t usually at the top of the list. However, even though it’s native to South America, it was introduced in Florida through the exotic pet trade and now flourishes in its new environment. They’re most common in the marshy areas in the Northern parts of Florida.
A capybara is a large rodent that resembles an overgrown guinea pig and can grow about 4 feet long, which is around the size of a medium dog. They have no natural predators in the U.S., which could potentially transition it from being an exotic species to an invasive one. Their superior night vision makes this threat even more real, as there aren’t many competing species within their niche.
8. Florida Panther
The Florida Panther is a subspecies of the mountain lion. They can be told apart from other subspecies by their crooked tail and a unique “cowlick” appearance of their back fur. They can grow to be about 6 to 7 feet long.
These amazing animals used to range from Florida to Louisiana, throughout the Gulf Coast states, and within Arkansas. Today, the only place with wild Florida Panthers is the southwestern tip of Florida. They’re extremely territorial and solitary with ranges up to 250 square miles and territory lines marked with claw markings and pheromones.
Today, there are only about 200 Florida Panthers left in the wild, making it the most endangered species in the world and the first species to be classified as Endangered in the United States back in 1973. Their biggest threats are construction causing major habitat loss in the Everglades, and many roads and highways pose a threat to panthers trying to cross their territory. The best way to protect this incredible native species is through collaboration with private landowners to increase their habitat and protect lands that provide what the panthers need.
The Florida Bobcat is widely distributed throughout all of Florida, preferring deeps forests, swamps, and hammock land. They require thick patches of saw palmetto and dense shrub thickets, as they’re important den and resting sites. Bobcats are about twice the size of a domestic cat.
They get their name from the “bobbed” appearance of their short and rounded tail. Bobcats are nocturnal and hunt primarily by sight, but it isn’t uncommon to see them during the day as well, since they only sleep for 2 to 3 hours at a time. Rabbits and rats are their primary prey species, although they’ve been known to take domestic chickens as well.
Because Florida is an important wintering area for migrating birds, the Bobcat doesn’t need to restrict its eating during the colder winter months as it has a wide abundance of ground-dwelling birds to choose from.