Education: Animal Nightlife

As the summer sun rises and sets, animals notice. Many of the animals that live at the Detroit Zoo are diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day. Gorillas, chimpanzees, butterflies, squirrels and camels are examples of animals that are most active during the day. As the sun sets, they prefer to settle in and sleep the night away.

Nocturnal animals include owls, bats, beavers, aardvarks and crickets, to name a few. That’s why you can hear crickets singing during summer nights and why most of us don’t see owls and bats hunting in the dark skies. Nocturnal animals have special adaptations such as enhanced hearing, eyesight and/or sense of smell that help them navigate after dark to find their prey.

Some animals are crepuscular, meaning they prefer to be active in the twilight hours of dawn and dusk. Deer, red pandas, fireflies and many moths prefer the cooler hours of the day, venturing out while many larger predators aren’t as active.

The Detroit Zoo follows a diurnal schedule; it’s open when humans are most active during the daytime hours. However, there are opportunities for glimpses into the animal dusk- and nightlife. Wild Summer Nights are held on Wednesday evenings in July and August. The Zoo is open until 8 p.m., featuring crepuscular and nocturnal animals, and live bands in the Main Picnic Grove. Youth in first through sixth grades can sign up to participate in Twilight Trails, the Summer Safari Camp evening adventure, to explore animals at dusk and participate in citizen science studies of fireflies or investigate animal adaptations.


You can also explore crepuscular and nocturnal animal life in your own backyard or neighborhood. Watch for fireflies as the sun sets, or rabbits as they search for food in your lawn. Hang a white sheet and shine a light on it, come back an hour later and see what insects have landed on it.

Enjoy the warm summer evenings and all the amazing things they have to offer!

– Claire Lannoye Hall is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

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