Pay attention to the world of your daily, waking life and you’ll find yourself surrounded by a whole ecosystem of creatures that go well beyond the humans you pass on the streets. And while you might not see it, nighttime is just as lively. And that’s true all around the world.
Creatures that sleep during the day and are active at night are known as nocturnal, and they take the form of both predators and prey. That’s in contrast to diurnal animals — or those which are awake during the day and asleep at night. It’s also distinct from crepuscular species — which are active during dawn or twilight. The creatures on our list thrive in their nighttime habitats, and many of them have developed characteristics specifically to excel in the darkness. Here are ten of the most fascinating nocturnal animals on Earth.
#10 Animals That Stay Up All Night: Barn Owl — Possessing an Ear For Easy Prey
The fact that the barn owl is fully nocturnal — combined with the eerie sound of its shriek — has resulted in it being seen as an ill omen or a demonic creature throughout many cultures. But it turns out that the barn owl’s senses are just well-suited to hunting at night. But while they can see in darkness up to 100 times more clearly than humans, barn owls can often stalk their prey on sound alone. The fact that one ear hole is positioned higher than the other allows for a sophisticated mapping system that takes into account vertical as well as horizontal space.
The screech of the barn owl is a way to communicate with prospective mates, and you can learn more about this hauntingly unique type of owl here.
#9Animals That Stay Up All Night: Pygmy Slow Loris — Hunting at Night to Avoid Competition
The primate known as the pygmy slow loris is both nocturnal and arboreal, and both are about finding the path of least resistance in terms of dealing with competition. By hunting at night, the loris can avoid having to compete with diurnal primates like monkeys and apes. Hiding in trees and branches during the day also helps them reduce the risk of being found by prey. And despite the name, the pygmy slow loris isn’t that sluggish at all.
These creatures leave their children behind while hunting and generally stay in movement the entire night — except for periods of feasting. The loris also has the distinction of being the only poisonous primate in the world, but their nighttime hunts are usually reserved for non-threatening prey like bugs and bird eggs.
#8Animals That Stay Up All Night: Cairo Spiny Mouse — Working the Night Shift
While the Cairo spiny mouse is active exclusively at night, its close counterpart — the golden spiny mouse —is only active during the day. What makes this unusual is how physiologically similar these two mice are and the fact that they often occupy the same ecosystems and hunt for the same prey — albeit at opposite times of the day. This species of mouse relies on its strong senses of smell and hearing to navigate through the dark, but it’s also assisted by hairs near its nose and mouth that can be used to detect objects in the darkness. Whether they’re out at night or during the day, their prickly fur makes them an unappetizing meal for many predators.
#7Animals That Stay Up All Night: Raccoon — Adapting to Urban Conditions
Raccoons have difficulty distinguishing colors and seeing objects at a distance, but their eyes have adapted a reflective coating that helps them see in the dark. But their other senses do most of the heavy lifting. A raccoon’s sense of hearing and smell is particularly strong, but they also possess an incredibly precise sense of touch with their nimble fingers. This, combined with the high intelligence of the raccoon, has made this animal particularly well adapted to living in urban environments.
While humans sleep, these animals can use their efficient sense of smell to track down garbage and their wits and puzzle-solving capabilities to make a meal of it. Raccoons actually have a reputation for being some of the most cunning animals around, which you can learn more about here.
#6Animals That Stay Up All Night: Black-footed ferret — Prowling the Tunnels of Its Prey
This breed of ferret is a perfect example of a predator developing its methods based on its prey. Prairie dogs are active through the cool hours of the day and create complex social networks concentrated in underground tunnels — and the black-footed ferret uses those very tunnels to stalk its prey. Black-footed ferrets subsist almost entirely on prairie dogs, and as their prey became an endangered species, these animals faced population decimation as well. That’s because the black-footed ferret relies on prairie dog towns not just for subsistence but because their tunnels provide them with a place to live and to raise their young.
#5Animals That Stay Up All Night: Bat — Innovation Through Echolocation
Logistically, it only makes sense that bats would hunt at night. It reduces the threat of predators as well as competition from other animals — primarily birds — with a similar if not identical diet. And while most species of bat isn’t as blind as folk wisdom suggests, their most effective hunting method is echolocation. Bats will project a high-frequency noise that extends into ultrasonic frequencies — and these sound waves bounce off of the surfaces, creating a map of the environment around them. Hunting sessions are usually short, as the amount of energy required to fly is high when compared with the nutritional value of insects.
#4Animals That Stay Up All Night: Pangolin — Walking Tanks That Hide Underground
The life of a pangolin is a solitary one — as they spend almost their entire lives ensconced in burrows beneath the earth. They spend their nights expanding their impromptu cave networks and hunting for insects using their long tongues and a heightened sense of smell. While there are eight different species of pangolin throughout the world, they’re all unified by the unique armored scales that cover their body. Unfortunately, this animal is considered a delicacy in many places and has been driven to the brink of extinction by poachers.
You can learn more about the different species of pangolin — including one that lives in trees rather than burrowing — here.
#3Animals That Stay Up All Night: Kinkajou — Bigger Eyes For Seeing Better
Many animals rely on senses other than sight to maintain a nocturnal lifestyle — but the kinkajou has instead adapted by developing eyes that can see nearly perfect in total darkness. These arboreal creatures sleep communally in trees throughout South American and Central American rainforests and use their prehensile tails to navigate trees in search of fruit. But they also have the ability to rotate their feet 180 degrees to make traversing the jungle canopies even easier. And despite having sharp fangs like carnivorous animals, they actually subsist entirely on fruit.
Kinkajous serve a critical role in the rainforest ecosystem by spreading seeds, and you can discover more about these interesting animals here.
#2Animals That Stay Up All Night: Fennec Fox — Hiding From the Desert Sun
The petite size and adorable features of the fennec fox make it one of the most adorable animals of the desert, but you’ll only find it if you venture out at night. The biggest threats to fennec foxes are diurnal predators like hawks and hyenas, and so these adorable animals gather together in burrows beneath the sand at night. These underground homes also keep them safe from the extreme desert heat, and they only venture out to hunt above ground only when night — and the temperature — falls. As omnivores, their evening hunts can lead them to insects or rodents as easily as fruits, plants, and roots.
Fortunately, the fennec fox gets all the hydration it needs from its food, and you can learn more facts about them here.
#1Animals That Stay Up All Night: Tasmanian Devil — Glows in the Dark
The Tasmanian devil relies on exceptional eyesight and hearing to track down prey and evade predators, but these animals found exclusively on the island after which they’re named also possess the unique ability to glow in the dark. The snout, ears, and eyes of these animals can absorb ultraviolet light and project it as blue light. And while researchers have yet to determine exactly why this would have developed as an evolutionary advantage, it doesn’t seem to offer a disadvantage out in the wild.
If your whole frame of reference for the Tasmanian devil is from the cartoons, you can learn more about these fascinating animals here.