Discover the hidden world that comes alive after dark in the heart of North Carolina. From mysterious owls to stealthy raccoons, this article will shine a light on the fascinating nocturnal creatures that call the Tar Heel State home.
Table of Contents
Nocturnal Animals In North Carolina
1. American Black Bear
- Scientific Name: Ursus americanus
American black bear, North Carolina’s sole bear species and a remarkable wildlife management success, thrives in the coastal and mountain regions of the state, although it’s less common in the Piedmont area. Historically, these bears were confined to remote regions, facing perilously low populations in the mid-1900s, but their resurgence now covers roughly 60% of the state’s land.
With an omnivorous diet, black bears feast on both plants and animals. While they usually display a black coat with a brown muzzle and sometimes a chest blaze, in other parts of North America, they can sport various hues, including brown, blue, and white.
These nocturnal creatures seek large, secluded woodlands and swamplands for shelter, but they have also demonstrated adaptability by living near developed areas in recent studies. In preparation for winter denning, they pack on extra weight during the autumn months.
Their dens can be found in live trees, hollow logs, caves, rock outcroppings, ground cavities, or thickets. These dens often resemble giant bird nests, constructed from leaves, sticks, and grass.
While den entry in North Carolina can happen as early as November or as late as January, coastal plain male bears may stay active throughout winter. Most North Carolina bears emerge from their dens in March or early April, the timing dependent on weather and the mobility of their cubs.
- Scientific Name: Lynx rufus
In North Carolina, bobcats are commonly found and easily recognized by their short, dark-tipped tails. Their fur varies from light brown to reddish brown with white undersides and dark spots.
Bobcats have yellow eyes with round, black pupils that widen during nocturnal activity to maximize light reception. These nocturnal creatures are about twice the size of domestic cats, measuring 20-30 inches tall at the shoulder and weighing between 10 to 40 pounds.
While they adapt to various habitats in the state, they thrive in wooded regions of the Coastal Plain and the mountains. In the east, bottomland hardwoods, young pine forests, swamps, and pocosins make ideal bobcat homes, whereas in the mountains, mature forests with nearby clearings are preferred.
Bobcats are carnivores with a taste for rabbits, mice, birds, cotton rats, and more. Active during both the night and day, they mostly tend to exhibit crepuscular (dawn and dusk) activity. These solitary creatures only come together during their breeding season, typically in February or March.
- Scientific Name: Castor canadensis
In North Carolina, beavers are common nocturnal animals known for their dams and lodges. They are the largest rodents in North America, typically weighing between 35 and 50 pounds, although larger individuals have been recorded.
These nocturnal animals are also known for their distinctive features, including large incisor teeth and flat, hairless tails. Beavers mate for life and can be found throughout the state.
These creatures play a vital role in the ecosystem, creating ponds that benefit wetland wildlife, help control erosion, and improve water quality. However, their dams can sometimes lead to flooding and damage to timber. In history, beavers were nearly hunted to extinction due to the demand for their valuable fur, but restoration efforts have successfully repopulated the state.
Beavers are strict vegetarians, mainly consuming the inner bark of woody plants and herbs. They construct sturdy lodges and family groups typically consist of two adults, two yearlings, and two kits.
- Scientific Name: Canis latrans
If you live in North Carolina, you’ve either encountered a coyote or know someone who has, as these adaptable animals have been in the state since the 80s.
Found abundantly throughout North Carolina, they are highly adaptable nocturnal creatures. Native to North America, coyotes exhibit a remarkable ability to thrive in various environments. They inhabit diverse habitats, from agricultural fields to suburban neighborhoods.
In appearance, they resemble red wolves but are smaller with distinctive features, including pointed ears and long, black-tipped tails. Coyotes are monogamous, adjusting litter sizes based on resource availability, and sometimes, older offspring stay behind to help raise the next generation.
These carnivores are opportunistic feeders, consuming a wide range of food, from fruit, rodents, and birds to scavenging on animal remains and even pet food. Their diet adjusts with the seasons.
5. Nine-banded Armadillo
- Scientific Name: Dasypus novemcinctus
Although still relatively uncommon, nine-banded armadillos have been expanding their populations in NC. These nocturnal creatures, often called “Armored pigs,” have armor-like skin, deer-like ears, and a long, scaly tail.
They forage by smell, grunting like pigs, and use their sticky tongue to capture prey with peg-like teeth. Native to Central and South America, they arrived in North Carolina at the start of the millennia from neighboring states.
They cause property damage by digging for insects, grubs, and earthworms; to protect your property, consider creating barriers around gardens and flower beds.
- Scientific Name: Procyon lotor
North Carolina hosts the common raccoon, a highly adaptable and intelligent nocturnal animal. It’s the only raccoon species found in North America, also native to Central America with introductions in Europe and Asia.
Known for their grayish-brown fur, black-ringed tails, and distinctive black mask around their eyes, raccoons are often spotted in urban areas, rummaging through garbage cans at night. These charismatic mammals have a well-developed sense of touch they use during feeding.
Read More: What animals come out at night in OH?
7. Eastern Screech-Owl
- Scientific Name: Megascops asio
Eastern screech owls, known for their stocky build, big heads, large yellow eyes, and horn-colored beaks, are the most strictly nocturnal owls in North America. They live in North Carolina’s woodlands near water and lower elevations year-round.
They’re most vocal near sunset, becoming quieter later at night. Calls increase around full moons and before storms. Listen for the “whinny” and trilling tremolo calls.
Other nocturnal owls found in NC include the great horned owl, barn owl, barred owl, northern saw-whet owl, and short-eared owl. Read about other nocturnal birds in North Carolina here.
8. Red Fox
- Scientific Name: Vulpes vulpes
The red fox is a common night species found throughout North Carolina. They are one of two fox species found in the state (the other being the gray fox) and measure similarly to a small dog. If you see them in the wild, you will notice distinctive red or orange coloration and a long, bushy tail with a white tip.
Red foxes are adaptable creatures that thrive in diverse habitats like farmland, pastures, and open forest stands. They primarily hunt for mice, meadow voles, and rabbits, but also consume insects, birds, eggs, fruits, and berries, in addition to scavenging carrion and garbage when available.
These animals are primarily active at night but may occasionally be seen during the day, especially in areas with ample food sources. They can be found in residential neighborhoods, taking advantage of available food and shelter options.
9. White-tailed Deer
- Scientific Name: Odocoileus virginianus
White-tailed deer are abundant throughout North Carolina, with over a million of them found in the state. These iconic creatures, known for their brown coats, prominent ears, and antlers, are a common sight in various habitats, including creek and river bottoms, oak ridges, pine forests, and farmlands.
They are herbivores, feeding on green plants, acorns, and even agricultural crops. North Carolina’s deer population has gone through significant changes over the years; in the early 1900s, only 10,000 deer inhabited the state.
Restoration efforts from the 1940s to the 1970s greatly contributed to their recovery. Today, deer-related hunting generates substantial revenue for the state, with sportsmen and women spending approximately $311 million annually.
Read More: Guide on California’s nocturnal animals
10. Virginia Opossum
- Scientific Name: Didelphis virginiana
The Virginia opossum, commonly found throughout North Carolina, is a small, nocturnal mammal with a unique appearance. They have a pointed nose, black hairless ears, and a nearly hairless prehensile tail. Opossums are skilled climbers, runners, and swimmers, with opposable first digits on their hind feet, similar to a human thumb.
These creatures are adaptable to various habitats, from deciduous woodlands to all habitats within their range. They are primarily nocturnal and spend their daylight hours in dens or abandoned squirrel nests, occasionally staying in during extremely cold weather.
The phrase “playing possum” stems from their habit of feigning death when threatened by predators. They can also resist the venom of venomous snakes and serve as nature’s pest controllers, consuming ticks, cockroaches, snails, and even snakes without much risk.
Opossums are highly resistant to rabies and are often encountered on North Carolina’s roads at night, unfortunately falling victim to vehicle collisions.
Read More: What animals come out at night in PA?
North Carolina is home to a remarkable array of nocturnal creatures. This article highlighted ten animals that inhabit the state at night, delving into the lives of American black bears, bobcats, beavers, coyotes, nine-banded armadillos, raccoons, and others.