Up all night, sleep all day
Many people are scared of the dark and worry about the animals prowling in the darkness - but there’s so much to learn about animals that are active during the night and sleep during the day. These animals, referred to as nocturnal, generally have highly developed senses of hearing, smell and specially adapted eyesight. Nocturnal animals come in all shapes and sizes, and they can be found on every continent except Antarctica.
Perhaps the most famous nocturnal creature is the bat. Maryland is home to 10 species of bats - the only mammals that can fly. In Maryland, all of our bat species eat insects such as mosquitos, stinkbugs, and moths. All 10 species of bats occurring in Maryland are considered to be Species of Greatest Conservation Need. You’ll notice bat boxes in the trees at Charlotte’s Quest, as we hope to encourage them to live in our woods. We also have an Eagle Scout adding six additional boxes to the park this year.
Another familiar nocturnal animal is the owl. There are six species of owl found year-round throughout Maryland: the screech owl, barred owl, great horned owl, barn owl, short-eared owl, and long-eared owl. Owls have excellent hunting capabilities and, on the upper switchback trails at Charlotte’s Quest, it’s not uncommon to find the results of these skills - owl pellets. These pellets are parts of an owl’s food that they do not digest and can include the exoskeletons of insects, indigestible plant matter, bones, fur, feathers, and claws.
While their name might say otherwise, the Virginia opossum is another nocturnal animal commonly found in Maryland. Though sometimes mistakenly considered to be rats, opossums are not closely related to rodents. Opossums are the only marsupials found in the United States. In the wild, opossums are usually prey and not predators. Because of this, they have evolved the trick to play dead. This defense mechanism is a unique way for opossums to stay safe without engaging with predators.
You’ve likely seen a raccoon or two at the park - they are nocturnal, too! Raccoons can be found in riparian areas along streams, lakes, marshes, swamps, farmland, and in suburban neighborhoods. Our riparian buffer is a favorite spot for them to hunt, and they typically den in hollow trees, ground burrows or brush piles but will use barns, attics or abandoned buildings, too.
Another nocturnal creature you’ve surely seen is the moth. Moths, like butterflies, are pollinators. Because moths are nocturnal, they have a lower risk of being seen by predators during the night. A moth’s antennae are feathery or saw-edged, unlike the butterfly, which has a club shaped antenna.
We’re excited to host our First Friday Fire in October to talk more about the “night life” at the park. Maybe we’ll hear an owl hooting or see bats flying during an evening hike. Please join us for this Members-only event, which will also include a campfire and s’mores. Register online here!