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Night Eyes

Using flashlights, locate and identify mysterious eyes in the night.

Group Size: best with groups smaller than 10 per leader.

Suggested Age: all ages

Time: 20 min for Night Shine activity, 30-45 min for Mystery-Eyes Hunt

  • Site: Mystery-Eyes is best in an open field or large clearing that borders a forest or pond. Select a smaller area (or a corner of a larger site) in which to set up the Night-Eyes simulation. Avoid lighted areas.
  • Safety: Areas to avoid after dark include ones with obstacles or steep grades and other obvious topography that could be an issue with reduced vision. If you are concerned about supervision, make sure to have more chaperones. Adults will love this activity!
  • Prep: make sure you have working flashlights for all participants. Night-Shine Simulation: choose code word and make reflective eye cards with letter code

Focus question:
What did you learn about the animals you found using the Night-shine technique?

Learning outcomes:
  • Identify various nocturnal animals using the Night-shine technique.
  • Analyze your findings – Who did you see? How many of each species?

Many nocturnal (active at night) creatures have eyes that reflect light, e.g. spiders, frogs, crayfish, toads, mice, opossums, raccoons, moths and owls. The color of the reflected light varies from animal to animal. The wolf spider’s eyes reflect brilliant, tiny specks of white or greenish-white light; the bullfrog’s eyes appear a bright, opalescent green. Certain moths’ eyes shine orange at night. Most mammals and night-active birds also have eyes that reflect light: orange, yellow, or white, depending on the species.

You may observe eye-shine at night by holding a flashlight against the side of your head at eye level, and sweeping the beam slowly over the grass, bushes, and trees at various distances. Look closely for sharp points of light that might be reflected from animals’ eyes. Eye-shine may be discernable across amazingly long distances. When you see small specks of green, white, or orange light, keep your flashlight beam on the source as you approach them for a better look. Watch carefully. Larger animals will run or hide as you approach. However, you can often get a good look at spiders, moths, and some birds.

With practice, observers can learn to tentatively identify many night animals on the basis of the color, size and position of light spots that the animals’ eyes reflect from a flashlight beam.

More Background:
Benefits to being nocturnal – There are many reasons animals benefit from nocturnal behavior. The most common are to either avoid predation or enhance hunting success. Nocturnal desert animals are able to avoid the blazing desert sun and heat by being active at night. Some diurnal animals might have nocturnal behaviors during risky times such as sea turtles’ egg laying or when elk migrate to avoid hunters.

Isn’t it Amazing?
The American Beaver was mostly diurnal until heavy pressure from excessive hunting eliminated all but the more nocturnal individuals. In areas with low human activity (such as Alaska), beavers are still diurnal. Today, most beavers in the US are crepuscular (meaning most active at dawn and dusk).

Extension Activities:
1. Did the participants spot eye-shine from animals that fled before they could identify them? These are often mammals. Let them devise and try out a plan to get a better look at the mystery creature on other nights. (A flashlight covered in red cellophane is one way to get a better look, because most nocturnal animals do not see red light.)
2. Try the Mystery-Eyes Hunt at several different habitats and compare the number and kinds of creatures observed.



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