Peek Into The Enchanted World Of Nocturnal Wildlife
Why be limited to enjoying wildlife in the daylight when there is a vast splendor of creatures waiting to be discovered come nightfall?
For those who may be wary of the dark, Henryk Teraszkiewicz, owner of ReConnect24 LLC Education Consultants, shines a light on some of the many nocturnal insects and animals that make nighttime so special.
There are few things in life more magical than watching the orbs of light radiating from fireflies dancing in the darkness.
Though we wish those moments could be everlasting, Teraszkiewicz says that adult fireflies only live for a couple of weeks. In that time, they do not eat and solely focus on trying to mate.
“Like many insects in our area, you will only see their adult stage during the summer, and since it is a short span of time, you also don’t tend to see them for very long, but usually at the beginning of the summer,” he said. “When they actually appear tends to correlate [with] the amount of moisture in the soil.”
Fireflies have that unique glow thanks to a process called bioluminescence, a chemical reaction that takes place in the abdomen of a firefly.
“The reaction is 100% efficient, meaning that all the energy goes to creating the light without creating any heat at all, unlike a light bulb. The flashing is used to allow the fireflies to find mates for reproduction,” Teraszkiewicz said.
Before fireflies get to this mature stage of flying and dazzling people and potential mates, they depend on being undisturbed on the ground as they grow.
“As larvae, the fireflies live in leaf litter, rotten logs, and gardens, eating slugs and other invertebrates, so they’re actually really helpful to gardeners!” he explained.
So, if you want a more vibrant light show during the summer, leave those crucial natural places that the larvae develop in alone.
Teraszkiewicz also recommends not bagging fall leaf litter and instead allowing it to compost in an area that can stay somewhat wild.
“Additionally, avoiding any use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides will lead to a healthier backyard in general with more biodiversity,” he said.
Also, a fun fact about fireflies that most are unaware of, is that they are not a type of fly, but rather a soft-bodied beetle.
While moths do not always have the colorful glitz and glamour of their butterfly counterparts, they are just as important to the ecosystem and can dazzle in other ways.
Teraszkiewicz shares that there are more kinds of moths than there are butterflies — approximately 160,000 species worldwide.
“Most moths are nocturnal, but there are outliers that are crepuscular (active during twilight hours) or diurnal (active during the day),” he adds.
His favorite kinds of moths to spot in Connecticut are the giant, pale green luna moths that can grow to nearly the size of an adult hand; the large cecropia moth, whose pattern on its wings look like giant eyes to scare potential predators; and the diurnal species called the clear wing or hummingbird moth. The latter are unique because they can also be spotted during the day, pollinating flowers and hovering like hummingbirds.
Like butterflies and hummingbirds, moths are pollinators and have the bonus benefit of getting to visit flowers in the nighttime.
Teraszkiewicz explained, “In fact, there are many species of flowers that either only open at night or put out their scent at night specifically to attract moths!”
To lure more moths to your property, he advises, plant a variety of plants, including grasses, shrubs, and trees.
“However, the best thing one could do is the same that they would do for the fireflies, which is to have that wild area with leaf litter for the moth larvae,” he noted.
Ever wonder what the difference is between a frog and a toad?
“These aren’t necessarily hard and fast rules about what is a frog or a toad, but toads tend to have [dryer] skin and are mostly terrestrial while frogs tend to have a ‘slimy’ skin and are more often found in or near the water,” Teraszkiewicz said.
There are a variety of frogs people can spot in the wild, including water frogs, tree frogs, and wood frogs, which are terrestrial and similar to toads (though they are special in that they can cryogenically freeze themselves during the winter and “melt” during the spring to come back to life).
Teraszkiewicz mentioned that right now, people are hearing small spring peepers and gray tree frogs “making a tremendous racket in their trees each evening as they call to their mates.”
The summertime is peak season for many amphibians to spawn, to allow their offspring the best chance of survival with the most food sources available.
Doing so gives them the opportunity to grow strong before winter, and as Teraszkiewicz pointed out, “Late summer and fall [are] peak insect times due to their own maturation cycle.”
Those looking to attract more frogs and toads to their backyards can leave the leaves, which attract insects, as well as add a small pond or other freshwater feature.
On the other hand, if people are finding frogs in toads in places they should not be, such as chlorinated pools and sheds, they can be safely removed and relocated.
Teraszkiewicz advises, “Since most amphibians breathe through their skin, we don’t want to handle them that much by getting our hands’ oils on them. If they are found in a pool, give them a freshwater rinse and set them free away from the area, and definitely away from cars and lawn mowers!”
There is something so majestic and awe-inspiring about hearing an owl in the dark of night.
While they are predatory animals and should be kept away from pets, they are harmless to humans.
There are a variety of owls native to Connecticut, but Teraszkiewicz said, “Right now, people will mostly hear great horned owls with their common, ‘Hoot hoot,’ and the barred owl with its, ‘Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all!’”
An interactive way to appreciate owls is to investigate the pellets that they leave behind.
Teraszkiewicz explained, “Owl pellets are the undigested parts of an owl’s prey, namely the fur and the bones and the teeth. The owl coughs up those parts like a cat coughs up a hairball.”
He continued, “In our programs at ReConnect24, when we find these owl pellets, we wrap them in aluminum foil and bake them to disinfect them, and then we dissect them to try and reconstruct what their prey was as part of our forest forensics programming.”
To create a safe environment for owls, the first helpful tip is to never use poison or rodent control, because it can kill owls and other animals.
“You can make your yard more attractive to them by leaving any dead trees that are not in a dangerous area if they fall,” Teraszkiewicz said. “Many animals, including several owls, use dead tree cavities for nesting.”
Enjoy The Night
The best way to enjoy nocturnal wildlife is do to so in a way that is safe for you as well as the creatures around you. Be kind to wildlife and do not be destructive to animals’ habitats.
Additionally, wearing insect repellent or clothing to prevent mosquito bites is important when outside at night.
Using flashlights to investigate your surroundings can help find the reflective eyes of wildlife.
There is a variety of other technology, too, available to help elevate the nighttime experience.
“Apps such as Merlin Bird ID can record animal sounds and help you identify them. You can also go to the MacCaulay sound library on the Cornell Lab Ornithology’s website,” Teraszkiewicz said. “One of the more fun gadgets to observe nocturnal wildlife is to set up a motion-sensitive game/trail camera to take pictures or record video of anybody who may walk by.”
He added, “If you manage to get a picture or recording of an interesting plant or animal, you can use the iNaturalist app to find out what it is, which also helps out scientists by creating a worldwide biodiversity database. There is a children’s version of the app, as well, called Seek, which uses real time augmented reality to identify wildlife using your phone’s camera. It’s so much fun!”
Teraszkiewicz offers educational programs locally, including the Outdoor Explorers summer camp through Newtown Continuing Education and ReConnect24’s school programs in Newtown.
Of the latter, he explained, “These are programs that are designed to create a fun, outdoor, experiential learning component to solidify classroom learning toward the next generation science standards (NGSS). This year, I will be opening up programming to the other surrounding school systems, as well.”
To contact Teraszkiewicz about programming, e-mail gonefishing@reconnect24. Also, be on the lookout for his backyard wildlife videos on ReConnect24’s YouTube channel, which will feature his show, YardX.
Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at email@example.com.