Friday, October 7, 2011

Come to Your Nocturnal Senses

(originally posted June 4, 2011)

If you’ve never gone for a hike at night without the aid of a flashlight, I highly recommend it. As a friend of mine says; “If you want to go hiking with a flashlight, you might as well go during the day; there’s lots of light then.” Humans have better night vision than we give ourselves credit for and after as short as 15 minutes, your eyes become quite adapted to the dark and navigating on an established trail becomes quite easy. Without a clunky flashlight to give away your presence or to ruin your night vision, your senses become heightened to a whole new nocturnal world around you.

Hiking in the dark your ear becomes tuned to the softest rustle. If you’re hiking in Florida and hear what sounds like some large predator headed your way, don’t worry, it’s more than likely a nine-banded armadillo. During the day armadillos already sound like a tank barreling through the palmettos, so at night I can imagine how you might feel the urge to run as fast as you can in the opposite direction. But there are fascinating and pleasant sounds of the night to be heard as well, such as an insect serenade, a frog chorus, or an owl’s call to its mate.

You may think that your vision would be the last sense you’d rely on in the dark, but there are lots of things to see at night. Many people have pleasant memories of catching fireflies as children, and going on a hike in the dark is a great way to find them. If you’re lucky and walking in the early summer, you just might see a juvenile firefly, better known as glowworms. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll get to see not just glowing insects, but fungi as well, a phenomenon called foxfire. 

Scientists may not know the reason that foxfire exists in some fungi, but they do know that it is created by the same chemical reaction as found in fireflies. But things don’t have to glow to be seen at night; it is quite easy to spot the silhouette of a bat zooming overhead collecting insects against the moonlit sky.

The warm summer months are a perfect time to take a night hike. Even if you walk around your neighborhood you just may make some interesting discoveries. Tonight when taking a hike around my Philadelphia suburb, I saw fireflies, a skunk (from a safe distance thankfully!), bats, and even heard a red fox’s defensive scream. Just remember to leave the flashlight at home!

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