Nocturnal Animals What is a Nocturnal Animal?

The possum is a nocturnal (night-time) animal

Photo: The possum is a nocturnal (night-time) animal

Nocturnal animals typically remain active at night and sleep during the day. Nocturnal creatures include a variety of mammal, bird, insect, reptile and amphibian species, such as possums, owls, bats, cats and rats. In addition, some animals have different levels of nocturnality. For example, kangaroos are classified as nocturnal, but they are also crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk).

Nocturnal animals such as elephants and red foxes are predominately active during dawn and dusk, but they are also active at night. Echidnas, on the other hand, vary the times they are active according to their environment. For example, if the climate is hot, the echidna will forage for food at night. But in cooler weather, it will come out during the day. While the echidna's behaviour is dictated by its desire to stay cool, it is just the opposite with some snakes, such as the red-bellied black snake. Being cold-blooded and needing to keep warm, these snakes will hunt at night if the weather is hot. But if the weather is cold, they will only do so during the day.

So, the term nocturnal is used quite broadly to describe a group of animals that are usually active when it is dark.

• List of Nocturnal Animals

Time of the Day Animals are Active? Day, Evening, Night or Undecided

Animals have been categorised into three broad groups based on the time of day that they are most active.

Photo: Times of day chart

• Diurnal (Daylight ) animals are usually active during daylight and rest when its dark.
• Crepuscular (Twilight) animals are active during dawn and dusk (twilight) and rest at other times of the day.
• Nocturnal (Night) animals are active during the night when it's totally dark and rest during other times of the day. Most mammals (69%) are nocturnal.

There is often confusion as to which of the above categories an animal belongs. This is because their activities overlap the various time categories. A perfect example is crepuscular animals, who tend to show most activity at dawn and dusk but may continue their activities later into the day or night. As a result, these creatures are often misidentified. One reason might be the tongue-twisting name – crepuscular – which few people can remember or pronounce.

Why are Animals Nocturnal? Why Australia has Many Nocturnal Animals?

Nocturnal lifestyles in animals are usually adopted to survive extreme temperatures, reduce competition for food and avoid predators. Australian marsupials, for example, have adapted to the dry climate of their environment by avoiding the hot daytime temperatures and coming out at night when it's cooler. The cover of darkness also affords animals protection from predators. However, sometimes predators use the cover of darkness to hide and ambush their night-time prey. Some animals also avoid competing for food by adopting different hunting times. For instance, hawks and owls hunt for similar prey, but one hunts during the day and the other at night.

Nocturnal Animal Adaptations Special Characteristics of Animals of the Night

Photo: A bilby has big ears and nose

Nocturnal animals have developed several specializations to survive in the darkness. These include excellent low-light eyesight in owls, possums and cats; acute hearing in kangaroos, bilbies, and rabbits; echolocation used by bats; and an acute sense of smell in koalas and elephants. These adaptations enable the nocturnal animal to effectively find food and detect danger while remaining undetected at night.

Australian Nocturnal Animals Why are Most Australian Animals Nocturnal?

Most Australian animals are nocturnal or crepuscular, meaning they only become active in the dark. This behaviour is due to the hot and dry climate with little water typical of Australia. By remaining inactive during intense daytime heat, many Australian creatures avoid getting dehydrated.

List of 50 Nocturnal Animals



Owls have round flat faces with prominent eyes. Most are crepuscular, being active at dawn and dusk.


House Gecko

The house gecko is active after dark and forages of insects at night. It is fond of cohabiting with humans in houses and buildings.



Black and brown rats are crepuscular and nocturnal but will come out during the day if there is food and its safe to do so. There were no rats in Australia until the arrival of the first Europeans. They arrived in Australia as stowaways.


Feral Pig

Feral Pigs are the descendants of pigs brought to Australia by European settlers that became wild. They are primarily nocturnal.


Red-eyed Tree Frog

Red-eye tree frogs live in rainforests and wetlands. They are nocturnal hunters that feed on moths and other insects. They make a 'waa-aa' sound.


Rakali (Water Rat)

The Rakali is a semi-aquatic placental that is mostly nocturnal but starts searching for food at dusk. It lives in burrows on the banks of waterways.



Taipans are large venomous snakes. They are usually active during the day, but in hot weather they may become nocturnal.


Gastric-brooding Frog

Gastric-brooding frogs incubated their eggs in the mother's stomach and kept their young in her mouth. They are extinct. They were nocturnal.


Eastern Bettong

The eastern bettong became extinct on mainland Australia. A very small population still exists in Tasmania. They are nocturnal.


Plains Wanderer

Plains Wanderers are small quail-like birds that prefer to run rather than fly and fall prey to foxes. Although it is a diurnal feeder, it is only seen at night.