Nocturnal Animals What is a Nocturnal Animal?

The possum is a nocturnal (night-time) animal

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

A nocturnal animal is active at night and sleeps during the day. However, some animals that appear to be nocturnal may also be active during the day.

Animals, such as possums and owls, are strictly nocturnal. They only come out in total darkness. Kangaroos are classified as nocturnal, but they are also crepuscular, being most active during dawn and dusk.

Elephants and the red fox 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

There is often confusion as to whether an animal is nocturnal or not. This is because some of these animals may seem to be active during other times of the day.

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 it gets 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.

Many animals, however, don't fit conveniently into these categories as they may be seen to be active across these time zones and may adjust their behaviour to several factors – typically the climate.

It is common practice to classify many animals that come out when it gets dark as nocturnal, even though they may actually be crepuscular animals. One reason might be the tongue-twisting name – crepuscular – which few can remember or pronounce.

Why are Some Animals Nocturnal? Why Does Australia have so many Nocturnal Animals?

Its Cooler at Night

Most nocturnal animals live in arid environments such as deserts. Take Australia, for example. It is the driest inhabited continent on earth. Most of the land is dry, and the climate is hot. As a result, many Australian animals, especially the marsupials, have adopted a nocturnal lifestyle to avoid the blistering daytime heat. This behaviour of coming out at night when the temperature is cooler conserves precious water lost.

Its Easier to Avoid Detection at Night

Many animals use the cover of darkness to evade predators. However, it should be noted that many predators are nocturnal too, and use the darkness to hide themselves and ambush their prey.


Some animals have adopted night-time behaviour to minimise competition for food. For example, the hawk and owl hunt in similar environments and for similar prey, but one hunts during the day and the other hunts at night. In this way, they minimise competition between each other.

Special Adaptations for Nocturnal Life Characteristics of Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal animals have evolved special adaptations that help them survive in the dark.

Eyes (Sight)

Animals such as possums and cats have excellent low-light eyesight.

Ears (Sound)

Photo: The bilby has big ears and nose

The kangaroo, bilby, and rabbit have an acute sense of hearing. This allows them to detect danger at great distances in the dark. Many bats use echolocation which acts like a radar. The bat emits a high-frequency sound that bounces off objects, and the animal's ears pick up the bounced signals to help it navigate through the dark.

Nose (Smell)

Some animals have an acute sense of smell. Koalas with their large noses and elephants with their sensitive trunks, for example, can sniff out the most appropriate leaves to eat in the dark.

Australian Nocturnal Animals Why are Most Australian Animals Nocturnal?

Most Australian animals are nocturnal and crepuscular. That is, they are only active when its dark. Australia is arid with very little water, and the climate is hot. As a result, many Australian animals, especially the marsupials, have adopted a nocturnal lifestyle to avoid the blistering daytime heat. This behaviour of coming out only at night when the temperature is cooler conserves precious water lost.

List of Nocturnal Animals


Kangaroos are large hopping marsupials. The female carries its baby in a pouch in its abdomen. They are crepuscular and nocturnal.

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Koalas are cuddly tree-dwelling animals with big noses. They are mostly nocturnal and crepuscular and sleep up to 22 hours a day.

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Asian elephants are most active after sunset and before sunrise. African elephants are more active during the day but are also active at night.

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Saltwater Crocodiles are one of the most ferocious animals in the world. They are mostly nocturnal, but will also hunt during the day.

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Possums are arboreal, nocturnal marsupial mammals that only come out at night. There are 23 species of possums in Australia.

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Red Fox

The red fox is classified as is nocturnal, but it is actually crepuscular, being most active during the evening and early mornings

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Platypuses have beaks like a duck and flippers like a beaver and lay eggs. Mostly nocturnal and crepuscular, they are sometimes seen out during the day.

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Sugar Glider

Sugar gliders are night possums that glide from tree to tree and eat sugary nectar of plants. They are about 250mm long and very agile.

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Dingoes are wild dogs brought to Australia by humans 5,000 years ago. They are mostly crepuscular and nocturnal in warmer weather.

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Red Bellied Black Snake

Red bellied black snakes are venomous. They are typically diurnal but may become nocturnal during hot or dry weather.

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Echidnas are egg-laying mammals. In warmer climates, they are nocturnal but crepuscular and diurnal as the temperature falls.

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Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devils are boisterous and scary-looking marsupials. They are nocturnal and are extinct except on the island of Tasmania.

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Cassowaries, with dagger-like claws and powerful kicks, are the most dangerous birds in the world. They are most active at dawn and dusk.

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House Mouse

The house mouse predominantly lives in urban areas in close proximity to humans. It is crepuscular and nocturnal.

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Wild rabbits have reached plague proportions in the Australian Outback and cause serious damage. They are active from dusk to dawn.

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Quokkas with their smiley faces seem like the happiest animals in the world. They are classified as nocturnal, but are mostly crepuscular.

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Feral cats are ordinary domestic cats that have gone wild and survive by hunting and killing native animals. They are nocturnal.

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Redback Spider

Redback spiders, the second most dangerous spiders in the world, are mainly nocturnal. They live in messy-looking webs that trap prey.

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Wombats are burrowing native herbivorous marsupial mammals that look like baby bears. Rarely seen in the wild, they come out at night.

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Tawny Frogmouth

The Tawny Frogmouth is a nocturnal insect hunter. It camouflages itself during the day by fluffing up its feathers to look like a tree stump.

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Flying Fox (Bat)

Flying Foxes are flying herbivorous mammals. They rely on their keen eyesight and hunt after dusk. It roosts upside down during the day.

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Greater Bilby

Greater bilbies are small, shy, ground-dwelling omnivorous marsupials with pointy ears and snouts. They are entirely nocturnal.

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The Antechinus is a ferocious little marsupial mouse with a pointy nose that feeds on small insects. It is nocturnal.

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Eastern Brown Snake

The eastern brown snake is the second most venomous snake in the world. It is diurnal but can be observed at night during hot days.

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Marsupial Mole

Marsupial moles have no eyes or ears and have a bony shield to protect their noses. It has been reported as active during the day and at night too.

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The woylie is a nocturnal marsupial with a long tail which it wraps around a bundle of nesting material and transports it home.

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Bushtail Possum

The brushtail possum is a semi-arboreal nocturnal marsupial. It has a bushy prehensile tail, which it uses to grasp onto branches.

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Wallabies are small to medium-sized hopping marsupials with compact legs built for agility in forested areas where they live. They are mainly nocturnal.

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Leadbeater's Possum

Leadbeater's Possums are critically endangered fast-moving marsupials that live in the forest canopy. They are nocturnal.

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Gilbert's potoroo

Gilbert's potoroo is the world's rarest marsupial and weighing roughly one kilo. It eats underground fungi (truffles). It is nocturnal.

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Spotted Quoll

Spotted Tailed Quolls are the size of a large cat. They have many sharp little teeth. They are nocturnal but may come out during the day.

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Bandicoots are small native omnivorous marsupials with pointy snouts, large hind feet, and hop. They are nocturnal.

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Night Parrot

Night Parrots are an endangered species. Only 250 survive in the Australian Outback. They are nocturnal.

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Stick Nest Rat

The white-tipped-stick-nest-rat lived in central Australia. It built its nest of sticks, making a massive nesting mound. It is nocturnal

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Tree Kangaroo

Tree kangaroos climb by wrapping the forelimbs around a tree and hopping up with their powerful hind legs. It is nocturnal.

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Lesser Bilby

This small omnivorous marsupial became extinct in 1950 due to rabbits and introduced predators. They were nocturnal.

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Ringtail Possum

The Ringtail Possum is an arboreal, nocturnal marsupial that holds its tail in a tight coil. It is the size of a cat and has two thumbs on each its front paws.

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Cane Toad

The Cane Toad was brought to Australia by sugar-cane farmers against the advise of scientists. It is now invasive. It is nocturnal.

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Water buffaloes were introduced to supply meat for settlers. They now roam wild and are habitat destructive. They are diurnal and nocturnal.

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House Gecko

The house gecko is found throughout northern Australia. It is fond of cohabiting with humans in houses and buildings. It is active after dark.



Black and brown rats arrived on board the first European ships to come to Australia. They are crepuscular and nocturnal.


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.