Discover the hidden world that comes alive after dark throughout Pennsylvania. From mysterious owls to stealthy raccoons, this article will explore fascinating nocturnal creatures that call the Keystone State their home.
Table of Contents
Nocturnal Animals In Pennsylvania
1. Virginia Opossum
- Scientific Name: Didelphis virginiana
Opossums are the only marsupials found in Pennsylvania. They are found throughout the state, where they are classified as furbearers.
Their unique fur, white at the base and black-tipped, provides a grayish-white appearance, while their hairless tails are well-suited for grasping. Due to inadequate fur insulation, opossums in Pennsylvania can often experience frostbite, with many losing the tips of their ears and tails, as the state is close to the northern limit of their habitat.
Opossums feed on insects, fruits, crayfish, and more, making them highly adaptable to various habitats, from woodlands to residential areas. In Pennsylvania, the peak of breeding season occurs in late February and March.
- Scientific Name: Procyon lotor
Raccoons can be seen in Pennsylvania everywhere. These nocturnal creatures mate there in January and February.
During the day, they sleep in hollow trees, logs, or abandoned dens and become active at night, reaching peak activity during dark hours. While not true hibernators, they can sleep for extended periods in the cold winter months.
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.
- Scientific Name: Castor canadensis
Beavers, the largest rodents found in Pennsylvania, are spread across the state, with the largest numbers in the glaciated northwestern and northeastern counties.
In the late 1800s, uncontrolled trapping and habitat loss led to the disappearance of beavers in Pennsylvania and many other eastern states. However, with the help of modern wildlife management, these aquatic creatures have made a comeback, reclaiming most of their previous territory.
Generally shy and active during the night, they can be recognized by wide flat tails used in dam building and for producing alarm warnings. These furbearers are prevalent around wooded ponds, lakes, and rivers.
4. Southern Flying Squirrels
- Scientific Name: Glaucomys volans
Pennsylvania is home to two species of flying squirrels. The rare northern flying squirrel is restricted to northern conifer forests, whereas the smaller southern flying squirrel is more widespread across the state.
Strictly nocturnal and seldom seen, they can be recognized by a distinctive gliding membrane (a flap of loose skin that extends from wrist to ankle) these squirrels use to glide between trees. They also have olive-brown fur on their upperparts and white on the underparts.
Southern flying squirrels breed twice a year and prefer woodlands for their nests. Typically the size of a roof rat, they have a diverse diet including nuts, seeds, fruits, and even insects.
Southern flying squirrels are also found in Georgia; read about other nocturnal animals of the state here.
5. White-tailed Deer
- Scientific Name: Odocoileus virginianus
White-tailed deer are commonly found throughout Pennsylvania, inhabiting just about every place, including urban and suburban areas.
The deer have two distinct coats, a reddish tan for spring/summer and a more insulating grayish tan for winter. Named after the white undersides of their tails, these creatures are primarily nocturnal or crepuscular, browsing mainly at dawn and dusk.
White-tailed deer, weighing around 175 pounds for males and 120 pounds for females, display adaptability in their diet, consuming herbs and fruits, and even surviving on woody leaves when necessary.
6. Great Horned Owl
- Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
Also known as tiger owls, great horned owls are the most famous and the biggest owls found in Pennsylvania. These permanent residents of the state prefer open areas near forests and make deep, loud “ho-ho-hoo hoo hoo” sounds.
Great horned owls have a diverse diet, hunting rabbits, rats, reptiles, and even large birds. If you see them in person, notice their earlike tufts and intimidating eyes. These large night owls stay monogamous, often for over five years or even a lifetime.
Other state owls include eastern screech-owls, barn owls, barred owls, long-eared owls, short-eared owls, and northern saw-whet owls. Read about them and other common nocturnal birds found in Pennsylvania.
7. Big Brown Bat
- Scientific Name: Eptesicus fuscus
Big brown bats are Pennsylvania’s second-largest species, after hoary bats. Found in various habitats across the state, including attics, barns, trees, and urban areas, they are the most common bats in the region.
Big brown bats play a crucial role in pest control, with a diet focused on night-flying insects, including agricultural pests like beetles. They roost in caves, tunnels, tree cavities, and human structures during the day. Nocturnal by nature, they become active usually 1-2 hours after sunset.
8. American Black Bear
- Scientific Name: Ursus americanus
In Pennsylvania, black bears are widespread in large forested areas across the state, covering over three-quarters of its territory. Sightings have been confirmed in every county.
Black bears, one of the largest and most elusive animals in Pennsylvania, are most active during dusk and dawn. They boast a variety of fur colors, with black or dark brown being the most common.
The current estimated bear population in PA is 18,000, a significant increase from around 5,000 in the 1970s.
- Scientific Name: Canis latrans
Coyotes, the largest canines in Pennsylvania, have adapted to diverse habitats across the state. Found throughout Pennsylvania, they are most common in the northern half of the state and get most active around sunset and sunrise.
These slender, grayish-brown animals with an average size of 35-55 pounds are opportunistic eaters, preying on small mammals, deer fawns, and occasionally adult deer. They may also target domestic poultry and livestock.
Read More: What animals come out at night in Michigan?
10. Red Fox
- Scientific Name: Vulpes vulpes
Red foxes are widespread in Pennsylvania, found around farmland and diverse woodland habitats. They are one of two fox species found in the state (the other being the gray fox).
Red foxes measure similarly to small dogs and if you see them in the wild, you will notice distinctive red or orange coloration and a long, bushy tail with a white tip.
They 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 and can be occasionally found in residential neighborhoods, taking advantage of available food and shelter options.
The Keystone State is home to a remarkable array of creatures. Examples of nocturnal animals in Pennsylvania include American black bears, owls, beavers, coyotes, possums, raccoons, and others.