A closer look at the nocturnal creatures of the Lowcountry

Night’s hidden wonders

Story by Tasha Esselstein

Some of us are night owls. Literally. And there are other living things that come alive after darkness falls. Take a peek at delicate night-blooming flowers and elusive animals that are most active in the moonlight.

Wings of the moon

A luna moth rests on vegetation.

Luna moth

The Luna Moth, also referred to as the American moon moth, is recognizable by its size and vibrant lime-green wings. These moths are prevalent all along the East Coast. Spotting them can be challenging, as their lifespan is relatively short, lasting around 7 to 10 days, and they are primarily active at night. 

Little Brown Bat (Myotis Lucifugus)

Little brown bat

These bats are active from dusk until just before sunrise. They are small in size and tend to roost during the daytime, often being part of a colony that can consist of up to 300,000 bats. These bats are cherished in the Lowcountry because they are insectivores, eating mosquitoes, gnats and small spiders. 

Barred Owl in the Night

Barred owl

Barred owls exhibit a distinct behavior of remaining sedentary, refraining from migration or extensive movement. This owl species, which is prevalent in the Lowcountry, holds the distinction of being one of the most vocally expressive and frequently encountered. They are particularly renowned for their signature call, often likened to the phrase, “Who cooks for you.” When hunting through the night, these owls display a versatile palate, consuming reptiles, birds and mammals as large as rabbits.

Carolina Sphinx Moth at night

Carolina sphinx moth

Commonly known as the tobacco hawk moth, these moths seamlessly camouflage with the trees on which they perch during daylight. As evening approaches, the adult moths take flight, displaying a preference for sipping nectar from moonflowers and petunias. However, the caterpillars of these moths can be troublesome as they possess voracious appetites, often devouring leaves and crops, including tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. 

A common night hawk flying through the blue sky of the marsh

Common night hawk

Common night hawks possess feathers that exhibit effective camouflage, displaying shades of gray, white and black. Spotting them during daylight is difficult, as they remain motionless while roosting among trees. However, they become active during the night, engaging in feeding behavior in areas abundant with insects, especially ponds and lakes. 

Backyard Prowlers

Raccoon at Night


These raccoons, famously nicknamed “trash pandas,” hold a prominent status among nocturnal animals and are recognized for their scavenging habits within local neighborhoods and parks. They are opportunistic feeders and can often be spotted during the night, rummaging through trash cans. With the exception of mating season, raccoons are typically solitary creatures, preferring to navigate their surroundings independently. 

A Nine-banded Armadillo is walking on a sandy road towards the left at night in the Chaco of Paraguay


The nine-banded armadillo is another nocturnal resident of the Lowcountry. Encased in a distinctive leathery armor, armadillos are well-equipped to defend themselves from predators. However, it’s their keen sense of smell that they predominantly rely on during their nighttime forays, helping them locate insects, small invertebrates and plant matter buried beneath the ground. 

Coyote photography at Yosemite National Park, Crane photography by lake and stars that captivate the night!


During the 1970s coyotes migrated to the Southeast, establishing themselves as backyard predators in the absence of natural predators in the Lowcountry. These remarkably adaptable creatures do quite well and now live on many local islands. Coyotes can weigh anywhere from 15 to 45 pounds. They travel throughout the night, with females typically staying within a marked territory spanning a 6-mile radius, while males roam up to 36 square miles. Sightings of coyotes in the Lowcountry surge during fall, so it’s best to keep an eye on pets throughout the night.

The Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) walks by the fence at night.  Surprise Guest


The opossum holds the distinction of being the sole marsupial native to North America. Renowned for their remarkable tail, they employ it for gripping branches, maintaining balance and transporting nesting materials. Opossums are known to eat cockroaches, crickets, beetles, snails and mice. The presence of water and leftover pet food in local neighborhoods acts as a magnet for these opportunistic creatures. They are positive neighbors, as they consume undesirable pests and rodents.

Young bobcat hanging on pole at night


These cats, active during the night, have been observed wandering throughout the Lowcountry, covering significant distances, anywhere from 2 to 7 miles along their territorial routes each night. Their color ranges from grayish brown to reddish brown with black spots on the legs and lower sides.

Under the moonlit waters

Alligator in still water at dusk

American alligator

Although one may observe these creatures sunbathing throughout the year during daylight hours, alligators are officially classified as nocturnal animals, sometimes with diurnal tendencies. This classification indicates that while they may be active during the day, they are most active from dusk until dawn. Alligators possess a fascinating sleeping pattern known as unihemispheric sleep, where they keep one eye open at all times while resting during the day. The open eye remains neurologically connected to the alert part of the brain. Alligators are a common sight throughout the Lowcountry and do not come as a surprise to the locals.

Tiny Hermit Crab Climbing on an Azure Vase Sponge at Night, Looe Key National Park, Florida Keys

Striped hermit crab

These petite hermit crabs are active scavengers during the night, feeding on any available detritus. They are often regarded as the more amicable members of the hermit crab family, as opposed to their counterparts who engage in shell fights. Striped hermit crabs are known for their propensity to share and exchange shells once they outgrow their current shells. 

A Ghost Crab (Sand Crab) at night on Folly Field beach, Hilton Head Island.

Ghost crab

Ghost crabs, with their pale, almost translucent exoskeletons, are nocturnal creatures frequently seen on sandy shores of the Lowcountry. As their name implies, these crabs have an eerie, almost ghostly appearance, especially when they move swiftly across the moonlit beaches at night. Their large, bulbous eyes, set high on stalks, provide them with excellent night vision. 

A Scalloped hammerhead cruises in blue water off Cocos Island, Costa Rica.  Cocos is known for its large shark population.

Hammerhead shark

Among the shark species inhabiting our coasts, the hammerhead shark stands out with its distinctive hammer-shaped head, providing superior binocular vision and depth perception. They have a diverse diet that includes a variety of fish, shrimp and even stingrays. Hammerhead sharks exhibit lethargic behavior, entering a sleep-like state during the day and then becoming active and hunting throughout the night.

Close up of a swimming snapping turtle with moss growing on it at Beaver Marsh, Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Snapping turtle

Snapping turtles are primarily known for their substantial size, elongated tails and inherently aggressive behavior. They possess the ability to endure brackish water, which consists of a combination of both seawater and freshwater. These turtles are classified as omnivores, with a diverse diet that includes plants, insects, spiders, fish, frogs, snakes and even smaller turtles. Get a close look at them in the pond next to Lowcountry Celebration Park. 

Night-blooming beauties

A cool night leaves dew drops on the petals of the Phlox

Night phlox 

Night Phlox is a favored choice when seeking a soothing honey-almond vanilla fragrance in your garden, often complemented by the sweet scent of angel trumpets. These nocturnal phlox flowers, also called midnight candy, earn their nickname due to their aroma and preference for blooming during the evening.

Blooming white moonflower (datura), centered


Moonflowers acquired their name from their inclination to blossom during evening hours and remain unfolded until sunrise. Moonflowers enhance any garden, emitting a delightful lemon fragrance as they blossom. During the day the flowers curl up, requiring alertness to witness their beautiful bloom. Despite their captivating appearance and smell, it’s important to keep these poisonous plants out of reach from children and pets. 

Lyreleaf Greeneyes without its Petals

Chocolate daisy

Often confused with dandelions, these flowers can be distinguished by their distinct cocoa aroma and flavor. Classified as herbs, they can be utilized as salad garnishes and are a great addition to bouquets. The flowers bloom and emit their fragrances before the sun ascends. They are known for their ability to flower throughout the year. 

mirabilis Jalapa known as four o'clock flower. white in the dark scene. the pure white color on the dark environment

Four O’ clocks

Named after their precise blooming time, these flowers commonly showcase their blossoms around 4 in the afternoon, remaining open until the following morning. When planted in the spring, these plants flourish as rapid-growing bushes, particularly in our Lowcountry region. Their vibrant array of colors includes shades ranging from white, pink, rose, magenta and to shades of red and yellow. 

White evening primrose, Sonoita, AZ.

Evening primrose

These pretty, lemon-scented flowers, which typically blossom during the late summer, are well-known blooms. They belong to the category of nocturnal flowers, unfurling in the evening and remaining closed throughout the day. It is crucial to keep a close eye on them as they have the potential to rapidly dominate your garden due to their ability to self-seed and grow quickly. They are known to lure nighttime pollinators such as moths and bats.

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