Happy Halloween to all our Committee for Green Foothills members and friends! As the copious candies and colorful costumes emerge, we’re highlighting the darker side of Halloween: three of our favorite nocturnal critters you might see flying nearby at dusk. Whether you find them creepy or cute, we think the local creatures of the night deserve a day in the spotlight!
Flying fangs and fur
Despite being the second-largest group of mammals (after rodents), bats maintain an air of mystery. They aren’t obvious during the day, often concealing themselves against tree bark or in small crevices, and their unusual habits of mammalian flight, echolocation, and vampire-style sleeping positions make them oddballs among other nighttime mammals. In the Bay Area, about 15 species of bat swoop the skies, including the pallid bat (above, in the hands of an ecologist), an especially striking looking species whose enormous ears help it snatch prey from the ground.
Who goes there?
The Bay Area is lucky enough to be home to several species of owl, including the rare and endangered burrowing owl, which has managed to eke out a home in Coyote Valley and a few other open spaces. But perhaps the most iconic owl, both in voice and appearance, is the great horned owl, whose chicks are pictured above (we think they look ready to go trick-or-treating as ghosts). The “horns” of this owl may be feathers, but it is certainly a devilish presence for the local rodent population–great horned owls are among the most aggressive birds of prey.
The Polyphemus moth is big (wingspans can be half a foot long!) and it’s looking at you. At least that’s what it would like you to think. The “eyespots” on the wings are designed to confuse any night predator that might wish to make it into a midnight snack. Polyphemus moths are named after a cyclops in Greek Mythology, although the moth is fully equipped with two eyespots and the cyclops is famous for having one eye (why, entomologists, why?). Locally, the moth is widely spread throughout the Bay Area, preferring wooded habitats.
Photo Credits: Bat skeleton–Creative Commons, pallid bat–Connor Long, owlets–U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, moth–Creative Commons