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Posts tagged “Nocturnal Animals

Signs of Striped Skunks

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If you are finding small, conical pits in your lawn, you probably have a striped skunk to thank for reducing your grub population.  During the spring and summer, invertebrates make up a large percentage of this nocturnal omnivore’s diet.  With the help of their well-developed sense of smell and their long nails (which make them excellent diggers), they locate, gain access to and consume subterranean insect larvae with relative ease.   Another sign of skunk activity, in addition to lawn divots, are the excavated ground nests of yellowjackets.  If they’ve met with success, skunks will often leave sections of empty, paper cells scattered about the nest site.  Apparently, even though yellowjackets can sting multiple times, they’re not very effective at discouraging foraging skunks.  Should you be so inclined, a close examination of skunk scat will reveal bits of insect exoskeletons, as well as the bones and hair of small rodents.  The pictured scat (next to the divot) contained, in addition to insect parts, the fur of another nocturnal animal, a flying squirrel.  (Thanks to Emily and Joe Silver for photo op.)


Snake Eyes

You can often tell whether a snake is active in the day (diurnal) or during the night (nocturnal) by looking at its eyes. Diurnal snakes, such as the pictured Common Gartersnake, typically have round pupils and moderate-sized eyes. Many nocturnal snakes have large eyes and many also have vertical, elliptical pupils. A round pupil is able to close tightly to a pinpoint opening, allowing a minimum amount of light to enter the eye on very bright days. In contrast, a vertical pupil can open wider than a round pupil to allow more light to enter the eye, a useful adaptation for night vision.


Flying Squirrels

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We have two species of flying squirrels in most of New England, the Southern (Glaucomys volans) and Northern (Glaucomys sabrinus), which is larger and usually more brownish than its cousin.  One could deduce that these gentle rodents are nocturnal just by looking at the size of their luminous eyes.  Because they feed at night, we don’t set eyes on them very often, except for an occasional lucky glance at the bird feeder before heading to bed. If we did observe them more often, we would marvel at their stretching their legs out, extending a flap of skin that runs from their front legs to their hind legs, and effortlessly soaring from one tree to another — as far as 150 feet horizontally from a height of 60 feet.  One documented sighting that I would love to observe is a female carrying young while gliding!