It's easy to forget that while we humans and many other species are active by day, there are millions of species that are active by night. When the sun sets, the party is just getting started for an array of species from large mammals to tiny frogs.
Here are some of the many species that make the night something special, including a few critters you might just see in your backyard!
Badgers come out at night to feast on earthworms, grubs and other prey. According to Badger Trust, "Badgers will feast on them night after night and at times of plenty they form easily the largest part of the badger's diet, often as much as 60 per cent. In a single night an adult badger may eat well over 200 worms." But badgers are omnivores and will take advantage of fallen fruits, bulbs, snails and slugs, vegetables and even small mammals.
Bats are known for their skill in flying through the dark skies to catch insects. But they also need a sip of water now and again. Discovery Magazine explains how they locate water: "As it flies, it sends out high-pitched squeaks and listens for the returning echoes. It hears a telltale pattern. It hears no echoes form up ahead and the only ones that reflect back at it are coming from straight below. That only happens when the bat flies over a flat, smooth surface like the top of a lake or pond."
These are probably the most famous of all nocturnal animals, next to owls. Bats 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 600-1,000 mosquitoes and other insects in a single hour), fruit-eating bats are key for seed dispersal, and nectar-eating bats play an important part in pollination.
3. Crab-eating fox
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. And yes, during the wet season this South American canid species also seeks out crabs and other crustaceans as midnight snacks.
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 also 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!
What do frogs get up to at night? During the breeding season, a whole lot of singing! As day turns to dusk, many nocturnal species of frog and toad will start to tune up. And as the night deepens, their voices come together in a chorus. All this singing in the spring and summer is to attract a mate. But nocturnal activity is also a smart move for staying safe, since fewer predators are able to find a frog in the dark.
Deer are mainly crepuscular, which means they are active mostly at dawn and dusk. But often deer will roam at night in order to avoid contact with humans or other potential dangers.
By day, hedgehogs are curled up snoozing away out of the sunlight. When dusk falls, they wake and start rooting around the undergrowth and, yes, hedges, looking for food. As they forage they make grunting sounds, hence the name hedgehog. While some species evolve 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.
This species 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.
This New Zealand native has nostrils at the end of its bill to better smell through the leaf litter and find food. They hunt at night because that's when many invertebrates move up from underground to the surface of the soil, so nocturnal activity makes it easier to snag a snack. Experts believe the kiwi evolved to be nocturnal to avoid the daytime raptors that once hunted from the heights of New Zealand's skies.
If you ever are walking through the jungle at night and feel like there are giant eyes staring at you from the forest, well, there probably are. The tarsier is famous for its enormous eyes. In fact, they have the largest eyes relative to body size of any mammal, which accounts for the creepy staring issue. A tarsier uses its huge eyes to see insects, lizards, frogs and other prey in the dark, and simply hangs out (staring, of course) waiting for something to pass by so it can pounce.
Leopards, like many feline species, get up to all sorts of things under the cover of dark. They travel their territory and stalk prey, often dragging their kill up a tree for safe keeping, well away from other animals who might try to steal it. They are also strong swimmers, and may even fish for a meal.
This species frequents backyards by night, and if you leave a bird feeder, pet food, or other snacks out, don't be surprised if you see an opossum sniffing around to partake. But don't worry: You want one in your yard. The opossum is a wonderful tool for pest control, as they gobble up grubs, snails, slugs, beetles and other pests you want rid from your garden. And while an opossum's eyes appear black, it is actually just a very dilated pupil. All the better to see in the dark!
These raptors are amazingly evolved for nighttime activity. From their tube-shaped eyes to their asymmetrical ears, the unique anatomy of owls allows them to pinpoint prey, even the location of a tiny mouse in thick grass. Their flight feathers are also specially constructed to allow for essentially silent flight, so that their prey doesn't hear them coming. Owls rule the night skies!
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 — as if the quills alone weren't enough to ward off a predator!
This nocturnal bandit is notorious for getting into trouble around residential areas. They 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 racoons living in your roof or basement can be a very noisy problem. But sometimes even these energetic creatures just need some downtime at night!
This may look like an unusual cat species, but it actually isn't related to cats at all. The 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, and the African civet species has been used in perfumery. Civets generally prefer fruit for their meals, and the Asian palm civet is famous for helping to create a particular flavor of coffee. But no, it isn't caffeine that keeps this critter up all night!
Some fox species can be active at any time of the day, but stick to being nocturnal 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 typically stick to a nighttime schedule, which allows them to avoid people and the danger that humans (and their cars!) present. Do you know all the species that are active in your town at night? Take a quiz on urban wildlife!