Things That Go Bump in the Night: Nocturnal Animals at Conner Prairie

Conner Prairie Grounds at Sunset

Indiana’s Nighttime Visitors to the Prairie

The scurry of small feet, the sound of almost-silent wings sailing by, and eyes that reflect back from the bushes. These are the signs of night-life on the Prairie that I often catch glimpses of after the rest of the grounds have fallen silent.

Conner Prairie—and Indiana—is home to a variety of nocturnal animals including bats, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, mice, red foxes, owls, and an occasional skunk. While you might not see these night creatures yourself, a careful eye can see the evidence they leave behind. Footprints and scat are the easiest to spot. The trash barrels around our historic grounds have heavy lids for a good reason as raccoons are determined little critters! Even though we pull the trash every evening to deter them, those heavy lids are there as a back-up plan.

Raccoon prints on trash can

Nocturnal animals are those who are most active at night. Visitors to our evening programs like We Can Camp and Symphony on the Prairie, sometimes catch sight of the little brown bats that inhabit Conner Prairie. I enjoy seeing them use their echolocation to fly around and eat bugs. It’s amazing to think that a bat must eat half its body weight in bugs each night just to survive. Nursing mother bats eat more than their body weight each night. That can be a thousand mosquitos an hour! The more mosquitos the bats eat, means less mosquitoes to bug me. Huzzah for the bats!

In the moments after a winter sunset is the time I’m most likely to hear the yip or high-pitched howl of the coyotes wafting up the hill from the Prairie. Once in a while you might hear them on Fridays at 11 a.m. when Indianapolis city tests the weather sirens. Nocturnal animals are most active at night, but that does not stop them from occasionally making their presence known during the day.

Animal tracks in the snow

Animals Active at Dusk and Dawn

The Prairie is also home to animals that, while not nocturnal, prefer the fringe hours of daylight. Our white-tail deer are the ones I see most. I often spot them in the two hours before and after sunset. Visitors can spot their tracks around the grounds. It is almost time for this year’s fawns to be born. You can be sure I will keep my eyes open for signs of their arrival. Tiny hoofprints in the mud, and perhaps an occasional late-evening sighting of their white spots in the bushes. Our wild rabbits are another animal most active in the margin hours of the day. Truthfully, I think they enjoy the quiet times after a busy day as much as I do.

Last weekend, as I stepped out the door to head home just before midnight, I was greeted by the plaintive cry of a lone coyote, followed swiftly by the hoot of a nearby owl. Things that go bump in the night are not scary anymore when you realize they are a part of the diverse animal populations that call Conner Prairie home. I have come to appreciate the night-life at Conner Prairie, where crickets chirp, fireflies twinkle, and coyotes howl. I might just catch a glimpse of something truly amazing!

Carol Emmert, Recruitment and Volunteer Manager at Conner Prairie

About the Author

Carol Emmert has loved Conner Prairie since childhood. Carol is our Recruitment and Volunteer Manager and enjoys watching the sunset on the grounds and the night-life of the animals.