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Michigan dnr > wildlife viewing guide > night species

Night Species

Michigan has some extremely interesting animals that are active only at night. Some of these animals are fairly common, but most people rarely see them. Although wildlife viewing after dark is challenging, you can be successful with a little knowledge and a lot of practice.

Bats are the only mammals that truly fly. Their bodies are covered with fur, but their wings are naked and nearly transparent. They have a distinctive fluttering appearance when seen in flight. Watch for bats around wetland areas where they often gather to feed. They can be seen right at dusk and often can be seen well after dark if the moon is bright or if there are artificial lights (such as streetlights) around.

From the 8-inch saw-whet owl to the 30-inch great gray owl, Michiganís owls may be best recognized by their erect postures, large heads, and large eyes. Some have large ear tufts but some—like the barred owl—do not. During the day, owls perch motionless in trees and are very hard to find. At dusk, look for them perched along field borders and listen for their distinctive hooting calls.

Most people recognize the distinctive colors (and smell) of the skunk, even if they have never seen a live one. Adults are about two feet long and spend their time on the ground in mixed forest and open areas. If you come across a skunk, it is best to observe it from a distance!

Flying squirrelFlying Squirrels
Flying squirrels are the smallest Michigan squirrels, less than a foot in length (including the 5-inch tail). They have extremely soft, loose fur that is brown or gray on top and white underneath. Contrary to their name, flying squirrels do not truly fly, but they are excellent gliders. They run along branches and leap into the air, spreading their loose skin tight like the wing on a hang glider. They use their broad, flattened tail as a rudder to guide them between branches and trees. Though fairly common, these squirrels are shy and rarely seen.

Opossum The Virginia opossum—North Americanís only marsupial—is about the size of a large house cat. It is easily recognized by its white face and large, rounded ears. The foot-long tail is pinkish and naked and the opossum uses it for grasping and climbing. If approached or threatened, the opossum will usually hiss and show its mouthful of teeth. However, if danger persists, opossums will often fall into a state of unconsciousnessó"playing possum." Many predators will not eat prey that is not "alive," so this little trick can be an effective defense mechanism. Unfortunately, it doesnít work well on roads.


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