What adaptations do nocturnal animals have?

by OBDK on December 30, 2020

We’ve all heard of the term “night owl” before. It’s used to describe people who like to stay up late. This phrase is used because most owls are nocturnal, which means they are asleep during the day and are active at night. 


We, as humans, are diurnal, which means we’re active during the day and asleep at night. However, since New Year’s Eve is on Friday, most of us will turn into night owls as we wait for the countdown to 2021.


As we stay up late, we thought it’d be fun to explore what it means to be nocturnal and what kinds of adaptations nocturnal animals have that help them survive in the dark. 



Nocturnal animals tend to have bigger eyes and wider pupils. Their eyes have more rod cells than cone cells, and the wider pupil is able to collect more light, which enables them to see better in the dark than we can. They also have a reflective layer called tapetum behind the retina. Have you ever seen your cat’s eyes shine in the dark? This is from the light reflecting onto the tapetum and making their eyes glow.



Nocturnal animals tend to have better hearing so they can navigate the darkness with ease. Some animals have cupped ears to help catch more sound, while others have asymmetrical hearing, like owls do, which helps them pinpoint exactly where something is.


Other Senses

Many nocturnal animals rely on their sense of smell or taste to guide them to find prey. Raccoons, for example, have a great sense of smell, while snakes will use taste to find their prey. Bats, on the other hand, use another sense entirely. They use echolocation to find their prey. They’ll make a sound, which then bounces off of objects. If the returning sound has a high intensity, it means it’s bigger, and if it has a higher pitch, that means it’s closer. Lower intensities and lower pitches mean something is smaller or it’s far away.



Some creatures are able to produce their own light. This is called bioluminescence. You probably have heard of bioluminescent organisms in the oceans that light up the shore during the night. Fireflies are another prime example of bioluminescence. Producing one’s own light can be used for communication, finding prey, and even defense.


As we wait for the clock to strike midnight and ring in the new year, let us know how you’ll be celebrating! 


  1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reference/nocturnal-animals-explained/
  2. https://www.seaturtlecamp.com/nocturnal-adaptations/
  3. https://www.exploringnature.org/db/view/Nocturnal-Animals-An-Adaptation-for-Survival