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Curious Nature: Whoo Whoo’s afraid of the dark?

Karen Woodworth
Walking Mountains Science Center
Owls have large eyes that allow for them to see prey at night.
Unsplash photo

Do you like to stay up late at night and sleep late into the day? If you do, you might be part nocturnal. Nocturnal animals are the most active after the sun goes down. Here in the Eagle River Valley, we have many examples of nocturnal animals that share our home, such as owls and bats. But don’t fear, these animal are harmless and play important roles in our ecosystem.

Many nocturnal animals have specialized senses to survive at night. One of the most famous nocturnal animals is the owl. Owls have large eyes that allow for them to see prey at night. If we had the same eye ratio as an owl, our eyes would be the size of a grapefruit! How would that feel?

Unlike us, owls cannot move their eyes in their sockets. Instead, they can move their head 270 degrees, which is almost a full circle. Besides having large eyes, owls also have exceptional hearing. Some owls can hear a mouse squeak up to a half-mile away. Owls also have specially designed wings that allow them to be almost silent during flight. This allows them to sail down almost silently to snatch their prey without warning.

These nighttime adaptations are important in helping owls ensure a successful hunt. In addition, they also have sharp beaks and talons, allowing them to tear into the flesh of their favorite food, small mammals like mice and voles. This makes them excellent pest controllers.

Another common nocturnal animal associated with Halloween is the bat. All bats are mammals just like us. This means they have fur, are warm-blooded and nurse their young. However, one difference between us and a bat is that a bat can fly! Bats are the only mammal that knows how to fly.

There are over 1,000 species of bats in the world and Colorado is home to eighteen of them. While bats might seem scary to some, only three species of bats feed on blood and they are all live in Central and South America. All other species eat only fruits while still others eat only insects.

Many of you might have heard the saying “blind as a bat.” This myth is untrue, and bats can actually see just as well as humans. However, when searching for food, they use a special skill called echolocation to “see” in the dark and find their food. The bat sends sounds waves that bounce off an object in its path. This method lets bats know what is in front of them and how far away it is, allowing them to snatch it out of the air.

Bats are also an important part of our ecosystem. They help to control insect populations by munching on moths, mosquitoes and many other insects. A single bat can eat over 6,000 insects a night. Some bats also act as pollinators and help to disperse seeds.

Next time you are out at night, make sure you stop and listen carefully. You might hear the flutter of a bat’s wings or the hoot of an owl. If you do, make sure to thank these nocturnal animals that control pest populations.

Karen Woodworth is a naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center. When she is not educating, you can find her hiking all around the valley. 


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