WARNING: Monsters, ghosts, and some of horror’s spookiest specters lie ahead. Are you prepared to face the undead? Read on to see what lurks in the darkness you might fear... But if you love wildlife, then you’re in the clear.

Enter if you dare!

Creatures with glowing eyes lurking behind trees at night
What is lurking in the darkness? Tenor.

You’re camping on a cool night.

Your last bundle of firewood is dwindling to a small pile of embers as you listen to the trickling of a nearby stream.

That’s your sign that it might be time to crawl into your tent and hit the hay after a long night of roasting marshmallows and trading spooky stories with your pals.

As you start to put out the fire, you hear a branch break and some scuffling in the depths of the forest. It’s too dark to see and your mind starts wandering in search of answers.

Could it be a witch?

Bigfoot?

A weird, dancing clown with a red balloon?

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Whatever creepy crawlies you might imagine prowling in the darkness, chances are they’re not as scary as they seem.

Many people fear the dark — for some, it’s fear of the unknown, afraid of what lurks in the darkness beyond our sight. For others, maybe it’s the fear of what else is out there exploring the wilderness with us. What creatures of the night are out there?

A man smiling and saying well, how about that
Frank N. Furter, aka “Creature of the Night” from Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). GIPHY.

While humans depend on nighttime to rest and recharge our bodies and minds, Kari Cieszkiewicz, an Environmental Education Specialist at the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming, explains why wildlife also need darkness:

“The period between dusk and dawn is critically important to many species of wildlife for numerous reasons. For example, in the desert, many animals are nocturnal due to extreme daytime heat. Predators will take advantage of the dark to stalk and hunt prey, such as deer, elk, and moose.

It is thought that wildlife in, or near, areas with growing human populations may be altering their sleep habits toward nocturnality. Why? To avoid people! Luckily for wildlife on the National Elk Refuge, most land and water are off-limits to people for most of the year. If people were routinely using remote areas of the refuge, it is likely that we would see a reduction in abundance and diversity of wildlife.”

Nighttime, dusk, and dawn aren’t only valuable for sleeping and stargazing. We all need it to survive! Many wildlife species have strong senses of hearing, smell, and vision that have adapted to help navigate dark environments so they can hunt, mate, migrate, avoid predators, and more.

So when you’re out adventuring at night, what else could be creeping in the darkness? We’ll show you.

Black-footed Ferret

black-footed ferret with green eye shine standing on a mound of dirt at night.
black-footed ferret with green eye shine standing on a mound of dirt at night.
Black-footed ferret with green eye shine. Photo by USFWS

Black-footed ferrets are most active at night to hunt for prairie dogs, which make up over 99% of their diet.

Coyote Eating a Pronghorn

coyote pulling a pronghorn carcass at night.
coyote pulling a pronghorn carcass at night.
Coyote eating a pronghorn. Video by USFWS

Coyotes are active day and night but tend to be out and about the most during dusk and dawn when hunting or during mating season. Have you ever heard coyotes yip in the darkness?

Sneaky Skunk

a skunk running in front of a camera at night.
a skunk running in front of a camera at night.
Sneaky skunk. Video by USFWS

Skunks tend to hunt and eat during the night, so they can use the darkness as protection from predators.

American Badger

An American badger sitting on a mound of dirt. A tall building and wind turbines in background.
An American badger sitting on a mound of dirt. A tall building and wind turbines in background.
American badger. Photo by USFWS

American badgers are nocturnal and travel through a network of tunnels in pursuit of prey such as small rodents. They specialize in digging by using their large, sharp claws. It is rare to see a badger active during the day because they are usually sleeping in their burrows.

Swift Fox

A swift fox at night looking at camera with glowing eyes.
A swift fox at night looking at camera with glowing eyes.
Swift fox. Photo by USFWS

Swift foxes are active at night, so they can hunt in lower temperatures.

Elk

an elk sniffing the camera lens at night.
an elk sniffing the camera lens at night.
Bull elk boop. Video by USFWS

Elk prefer to feed when temperatures are cooler during the night or early mornings, so they can hunker down in the shade during the day and escape the hot sun.

Mountain Lion That Captured a Coyote

A blurred mountain lion carrying a coyote in its mouth at night
A blurred mountain lion carrying a coyote in its mouth at night
Mountain lion carrying a coyote. Photo by USFWS

Mountain lions are mostly active during dusk and dawn to correspond with active hours for prey such as deer, and this case, a coyote.

White-tailed Deer

Curious mule deer. Video by USFWS.

White-tailed deer sometimes choose to feed at night when food is scarce and they are forced to find food sources in more open areas. If they feed at night, it’s easier to hide from predators.

Black Bear

A black bear bathing in a watering container at night. Tall grass and shrubs in background.
A black bear bathing in a watering container at night. Tall grass and shrubs in background.
Black bear bathing in a waterer. Photo by USFWS

Black bears emerge at night to avoid humans and other bears.

Florida Panther

A Florida panther with head toward the sky with mouth open at night while standing in grass.
A Florida panther with head toward the sky with mouth open at night while standing in grass.
Florida panther exhibiting the Flehmen response in which an animal opens its mouth and curls its upper lip to better sense pheromones and other scents. Photo by USFWS

Florida panthers are mostly active during dusk and dawn to correspond with active hours for prey such as deer, small mammals, and wild hogs.

A Real Life Horror

These are just a few of the many wildlife species that depend on darkness to survive. While we might fear what’s bumping around in the night, something far more terrifying are the negative effects that human-caused light pollution can have on wildlife.

Artificial light such as streetlights, porch lights, lamps, and even fires can disrupt the environmental conditions that wildlife depend on. All creatures (even humans) rely on day/night and seasonal patterns that drive activity and movement. When those patterns are disrupted, many wildlife species can unknowingly begin to star in their own version of a horror movie.

A woman screaming and holding her hands near her face.
A woman screaming and holding her hands near her face.
Woman screaming in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (1983). GIPHY.

A rabbit won’t be able to hide in the darkness while attempting to escape a predator. Sea turtle hatchlings won’t make it to the ocean if they get distracted by artificial light coming from the wrong direction. Migratory birds won’t make it to their destination if they often wander off course and crash into illuminated buildings.

You know how Ed and Lorraine Warren spend their entire careers warding off evil from helpless people in the Conjuring movies? In this case, wildlife are the stars of the show and artificial light is the evil monster.

A woman holding a match in the darkness. Two hands come near her head and clap.
A woman holding a match in the darkness. Two hands come near her head and clap.
The Conjuring (2013). Wifflegif.

In this horror flick, Ed and Lorraine can’t come to the rescue, but YOU can help!

How to Ward Off Evil Artificial Light Sources

• Turn off lights when not in use. Or better yet, install motion sensors on indoor and outdoor lights, especially during the bird migration periods (early April through late May and mid-August through early November) and periods of inclement weather.

• Use window shades to minimize light “spills,” and use light shields on outside fixtures to keep light from shining into the sky

• In public or commercial buildings, make sure any lights that are not motion-activated are turned off at night, especially architectural lighting, upper story interior lighting, and lobby or atrium lighting.

• Use a red flashlight when taking a nighttime stroll along beaches during the April-October sea turtle nesting season. This prevents disturbing nesting females or hatchlings making their way to moonlit waters. This is also an especially important time of year to be sure lights near the beach are turned off at night.

• Wrap your flashlight in red plastic to avoid disturbing creatures of the night, if you’re brave enough to be out there adventuring. Light at the red end of the spectrum is minimally seen by most nocturnal animals.

• Change outdoor bulbs to warm-colored LEDs or compact fluorescents. This switch helps reduce energy use AND protects the environment without compromising visibility!

  • Tell others what you know and how these noble acts can prevent wildlife from facing the horrors of light pollution!

Written by Mikaela Oles, a Public Affairs Specialist in Lakewood, Colorado, with contributions from Christina Stone, Jessica Sutt, Kari Cieszkiewicz, and Greg Kramos.

We’re dedicated to the conservation, protection and enhancement of fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats.