To navigate through the darkness, these animals often have large eyes and more vital senses of smell and hearing. North America is home to a wide variety of nocturnal species, so read on to learn more about these creatures of the night.
Adult Height: 12-13 inches
Adult Weight: 4-23 pounds
Adult Length: 23.5-37.5 inches
Life Expectancy: 2-3 years in the wild
With their small and fuzzy gray bodies, bushy ringed tail, and black masks, these nocturnal mammals look like adorable bandits. However, humans should never approach raccoons, as they can act viciously if they feel threatened.
Raccoons are native to North America and can be found throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Originally, raccoons lived in various forests and made their dens almost exclusively in tree cavities or burrows. However, these easily adaptable creatures are now found in a wide variety of habitats, including grasslands, forests, and tropical areas.
The raccoon is an omnivore with an expansive diet determined mainly by the type of food available. For example, raccoons in urban areas are often found rummaging through dumpsters at night, searching for human food scraps. Their favorite foods include fruits, nuts, eggs, frogs, crayfish, and insects.
Raccoons possess several adaptations that help them move about at nighttime. Their dark fur camouflage keeps them safe from their few predators, and one hypothesis for their familiar black mask is that it may help enhance the raccoon’s night vision.
Adult Size: 12-16 inches
Adult Weight: 1-1.5 pounds
Life Expectancy: 4 years in the wild
Although more than 46 types of barn owls are found worldwide, the North American one is the largest. Barn owls are known for their distinctive pale appearance—these birds are white underneath their wings, on their faces, chests, and bellies.
Barn owls have an expansive range and can be found in various areas. While they prefer open areas, such as farmland, to hunt, roost, and nest, barn owls also live in forests, urban areas, and even marshes.
This silent hunter can successfully catch prey in total darkness. Researchers found that a Barn owl’s hearing is so well adapted that they can pick up the slightest sound of an animal moving far below. While these nocturnal birds feast primarily on rodents, they also hunt fish, reptiles, and insects.
Big Brown Bat
Adult Length: 4-5 inches
Adult Wingspan: 12-13 inches
Adult Weight: ½- ¾ ounce
Life Expectancy: average 6 years; can live up to 20
As their name suggests, the Big Brown Bat is a larger species of brown bat commonly found in North America. These nocturnal mammals have a long coat that is tan, brown, or reddish. Their ears, wings, and tails are black. These bats have large, sharp teeth, which enable them to crunch down on beetles, their primary food source.
These social animals thrive in virtually all North American habitats, from timberline meadows to lowland deserts. Colonies of Big Brown Bats make their homes in a variety of structures, too, such as caves, barns, or underneath bridges.
Bats begin to rouse in the early evening hours and spend the night flying from one tree to another in search of food. Despite common belief, bats can see as well as humans. However, they’ve evolved to use echolocation to navigate and locate their prey in the dark. These bats can identify objects in their environment by emitting loud sound frequencies and listening to the echo.
Adult Height: 14-20 inches
Adult Weight: 7-15 pounds
Adult Length: 39-43 inches, including the tail
Life Expectancy: 3-4 years in the wild
As members of the canid family, red foxes are closely related to coyotes, dogs, and wolves. They resemble a small, slender dog with an elongated muzzle and large pointed ears. Despite their name, red foxes can also have silver, black, or combination-color coats. This fox is common throughout North America, except for the coastal west, the southwestern desert, the extreme southeast, and the Great Plains.
Red foxes are cunning omnivore hunters, emerging from their dens in the evening in search of food. They are opportunistic, meaning that their diet varies depending on where they live and what’s available. They’ll eat rodents, amphibians, fish, ground-nesting birds, and their eggs, fruit, nuts, garbage, and roadkill.
While it’s possible to see a red fox during the day, these mammals are primarily nocturnal. Their keen sense of smell and excellent hearing are adapted for the darkness when the red fox is less likely to encounter humans or predators.
Northern Flying Squirrel
Adult Length: 10-20 inches
Adult Weight: 3-5 ounces
Life Expectancy: 3-5 years in the wild
Northern flying squirrels are one of only two flying squirrel species found in North America. They are the larger of the two types, with tan or brown fur on their backs and white and gray fur on their bellies.
Flying squirrels make their homes primarily in the deciduous and coniferous forests of the West and Northeast. They are omnivores, feasting on insects, fruits, seeds, nuts, and fungi.
Despite their name, this nocturnal rodent doesn’t fly. They have special membranes between their front and back legs that allow them to glide quickly from one tree to another. This ability helps the Northern Flying Squirrel escape quickly from nocturnal predators like owls. Their large, dark eyes are well adapted for night vision.