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Animal Adaptations

Good evening naturalists!

Welcome to day three of Nature at Night!  Have you ever wondered how some animals are able to survive by only being awake at night?  Today we are going to discover how some nocturnal, or nighttime, animals are able to get what they need and survive after the sun goes down.


Let's start thinking about nocturnal animals.  How many nighttime animals you can name that live near you?  Have you ever seen any of these animals at night yourself?  Next, think of one of the animals that you just named.  What senses or skills it has to help it to find what it needs in the dark?  Are they similar to any human senses or skills?  If they are they different, what makes them so?


Many nocturnal animals have amazing adaptations (special traits or behaviors animals have that help them to better survive in their habitats) that help them get what they need to survive at night.  One of the most well-known Ozark mammals that you can find at night (and even during the day) is the white-tailed deer.  Deer’s ears help them lead their nocturnal lifestyles, and we get to discover together how those ears work.

You will need at least one partner for this activity, but can be done with several people as well.  Stand several feet away from your partner(s), then whisper a word or phrase to them and see if they could hear what you said.  Was it easy or difficult to hear what they said?  Next, have your partner put on their “deer ears” by cupping their hands around their ears and then whisper the same word or phrase to them again.  Switch roles so that everyone has a chance to practice their deer ears. Did you notice any difference in what you could hear when you had your deer ears on?  What happens when you turn your “ears” to focus in diferent directions?


Deer need to be able to hear sounds from all around them at night so they can tell which sounds might be coming from a predator.  To do this, a deer’s ears are able to swivel back and forth on their heads to pick up sounds from all directions. Also, deer have large ears that act like radar dishes that funnel sound towards their ears.  This is what you were doing in this activity when you had on your “deer ears”!


Another nocturnal animal that most people are familiar with are owls.  Let's explore some of the owls that we can see here in the Ozarks!

Here's an activity that can be done in a dark, open space that is safe for people to move around.  Stand in the middle of the space and then have your partner start randomly walking around. They are free to walk anywhere in this space, but they must try to stay as quiet as possible while they do so.  As your partner is walking around, the “owl” must stay in the same spot but is free to turn around where they are standing. How often were you able to see your partner as they moved around?  How easy was it to follow their movements? 


After a couple minutes, start over again. This time, however, you cannot turn in a circle.  You can only move your head to look to the right or left while your feet must stay still.  How often were you able to see your partner this time?  Make sure to switch roles so that everyone is able to be the “owl”!

Since they cannot move their eyes around, owls have twice as many bones in their neck as we do.


Here is another fun activity that can be done right on your porch! The only thing you will need is a flashlight, but to help prepare, turn on your porch light for about 30 minutes before going outside. When it is dark turn off the porch light and go outside with your flashlight. What do you see? If it is a nice warm night, you are probably seeing lots of moths. Shine your light at these moths’ eyes. Do you see anything happening? Hopefully, you can see their eyeshine. Can you think of other animals you have seen with eyeshine?

This eyeshine is important to many nocturnal animals. Most eyeshine is caused by something called the tapetum lucidum (pronounced “tah-pEEt-um lu-ci-dum”), meaning shining carpet in Latin. The tapetum lucidum is a reflective layer in the back of their eye. It reflects light much like a mirror and helps these animals see.

We hope everyone has had a chance to see how special nocturnal animals are, as well as get to experience some of the adaptations they have to survive at night!  There is a whole world of animals out there that we rarely get to see because they are nocturnal.  On Friday at 8:00pm CST, we'll try to spot some of our nocturnal wildlife in our Find-Out Friday.


For some additional videos on nocturnal wildlife, check out these ONSC L.I.V.E videos!

We hope you've enjoyed exploring the creatures of the night, and we'll see you tomorrow evening to light up the night!  Happy exploring!

If you enjoyed watching today's lessons and would like to purchase one of our ONSC Virtual Merchandise Packages, which includes an ONSC Program T-shirt and field journal, click to go to our Online Store


During this time, we only have limited amount of merchandise available for purchase. 


Merchandise orders will ship First Class USPS every two weeks on the following dates:

April 16, April 30, May 14 & May 28


The Ozark Natural Science Center is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) residential field science education center located in Northwest Arkansas.

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1905 Madison 1305
Huntsville, AR  72740