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What do nocturnal animals do at night?

Many of the animals at Zoo Atlanta can be observed easily. You can even visit them during our open hours. But what happens when the animal care teams leave for the day? Do all the animals go to bed?

Well, that depends on the animal. Many of the animals that can be seen during the day are diurnal, or active during the day. But many species that reside at the Zoo are nocturnal, or active at night. As care teams leave for the day, some animals who have been sleeping during the day are just waking up. What do these nocturnal animals do when the animal care professionals have left for the day? Over the past year, we have watched many of these animal activities. Knowing what they are doing helps us provide enrichment opportunities and provide optimal welfare.

Through these videos we have observed numerous animals. A few things we have learned from the videos thus far:

We confirmed that sloths do move, especially at night. We were able to observe Cocoa, the male sloth, maneuvering through his habitat foraging on food that was scattered throughout. However, they move so slowly, they do not trigger the motion sensor on the cameras, so instead of just quickly fast forwarding to times when they are active, we have to watch hours of tape to catch them moving around. Did you know sloths do not use the restroom daily? Their digestive system moves much slower than ours, and they only defecate every three to seven days. Another cool fact is that when they do go to the bathroom, they climb down to the ground to relieve themselves. This is one of the only times that sloth come out of the trees.

We learned that lesser Madagascar hedgehog tenrecs move toward the heat at night and use their exercise wheel. Lesser Madagascar hedgehog tenrecs go through an annual torpor where they slow down their metabolisms, don’t move a lot, don’t eat a lot, and don’t go to the bathroom that often. When out of torpor, they are very active. During this time, they are moving around at night when their favored insect prey is active. They have feet that look like our hands, but with claws, which allows them to grip onto trees and climb into nooks and crannies of the trees to sleep during the day. They utilize these feet when maneuvering through their habitat at night including using a wheel that they run on.

Carlos the red-footed tortoise spends some of his day in his hide. But he enjoys the setting sun of his heat lamp so much that he prefers to camp at night under it. In the morning he gets the warmth when it turns on. Then throughout the day he spends some time soaking in his water and foraging on salad. In his natural habitat in the South American rainforest, he would be foraging throughout the day and basking when needed.

We also had native visitors that would photobomb our observation cameras when outside. For instance, we saw a spider working on his web in the upper corner of the enclosure far from the animals, but the movement was triggered on the nest cam video. It is a little blurry but exciting to see our native wildlife hard at work.

Christina L.
Lead Keeper, Ambassador Animals

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