Creatures that go bump in the night

Courtney Dunn
October 31, 2022

In honour of Halloween, we wanted to celebrate those creatures that go bump in the night by discussing what makes nocturnal animals so unique.

Zoolife is home to a multitude of species from around the world with a diverse range of behaviours  – some spookier than others. While the rest of the world sleeps, nocturnal animals thrive thanks to their special adaptations. Some of these adaptations are simple such as wider, more reflective eyes – while others are more complicated. In honour of Halloween, we wanted to celebrate those creatures that go bump in the night by discussing what makes them so unique.

Interesting in learning more? Keep reading for a summary on facts about nocturnal animals.

What are nocturnal animals?

Put simply – nocturnal animals are those who are active during the night and sleep during the day. Animals who do the opposite of this, aka active during the daytime, are referred to as diurnal. And, even still, there is another distinction – animals active during dawn and dusk. These animals are known as crepuscular.

For the common ancestors of modern animals on our planet, becoming active at night was a survival advantage which allowed them to survive when their predators were sleeping. Predators, however, began to adapt to better seek out these prey animals for their own survival needs. These nocturnal characteristics for both predator and prey were in turn passed to the various nocturnal animals in the world today.

Foxes, like this Channel Island Fox, rely on cupped ears to hear prey. Photo by Gerbiosa.

What special adaptations do nocturnal animals have?

Nocturnal animals typically have special adaptations that can be summarized into one of three categories – vision, hearing, and other.

When we need to see in the dark, we rely on flashlights to navigate. Nocturnal animals do something very similar but instead of technology they rely on specialized forms of vision. These species typically have bigger eyes and wider pupils – especially when exposed to darkness. Not only that, but their eyes typically have more rod cells than cone cells – meaning the wider pupil is better able to collect light and see better. Some species, like Amur leopards and Amur tigers, also have a special reflective layer behind their retina. This reflective layer is what makes it appear like the eyes of the leopards on Zoolife are glowing when spotted at night.

Hearing is super heightened in nocturnal animals. Some, like the Channel Island fox, have cupped ears that help them hone in on sounds better. Others, like owls, have asymmetrical hearing to fine point even better where a potential prey may be.

The heightened senses of nocturnal animals continue into even more realms outside of hearing and vision enhancements. Some rely on heightened senses of touch, like kiwi birds. Kiwis feature long whiskers coming down from their beak that allows them to sense even the smallest prey movements in the ground. Alligators have pressure organs on the surface of their skin to detect movement in the water. Others may use echolocation, bioluminescence, or more.

A kiwi bird at Orana Wildlife Park searching for grubs in the leaf litter. Orana Wildlife Park is involved in the Recovery Programme for these remarkable birds, breeding for release back into the wild.

Where can I watch nocturnal animals online?

Many nocturnal animals call Zoolife home – including the kiwi birds, American alligators, and more. You can watch these nocturnal animals as well as their more crepuscular relatives by heading to the habitat map and looking for their corresponding icon. By navigating through the Species tab, you can read information cards about that species unique abilities and adaptations for the nighttime world.

American alligators, Lucy and Charley, floating in a pool at night. Photo by tinytiger65558.

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