It is always hardest to wake up on Mondays. And we are diurnal humans! Because of the sleepy nature of Mondays, SPREE spent this past Monday learning about the nocturnal and crepuscular animals that roam our city and state when the sun goes down.
We started off the day by defining the words diurnal, crepuscular, and nocturnal, and then brainstorming animals that fit with each word. Diurnal refers to animals that are awake during the day and sleep at night such as squirrels, songbirds, and humans. Nocturnal animals sleep during the day and are awake at night such as racoons, owls, bats, and skunks. Crepuscular is a tricky word because it isn’t always learned, but it turns out that most of our City’s critters fit in this category. Crepuscular animals sleep through most of the day AND night! Crepuscular animals are awake and active during dawn and dusk. Many Denver animals fit in this category such as beaver, muskrat, deer, and rabbits.
The first nocturnal animal we learned about was bats. We have 19 bat species that live in Colorado. The most common bat in Denver is the big brown bat, and is likely the species you are seeing if you’re lucky enough to spot one of these flying mammals in our city. We learned some facts about some local bats- did you know the little brown bat is found at over 11,000 ft.?! Wild! Bats explore their dark world through echolocation, and we thought it would be fun for campers to try out their own ability to locate objects using “echolocation”. Blindfolded campers lightly tossed whiffle balls against a wall and using the sounds that bounced to them, needed to decide if they were close enough to the wall to touch it. If not, they took a step forward to repeat the game.
The second activity of the day was all about owls. There are 13 different owl species that live in Colorado, and most of them are nocturnal. We did learn about one specie, the Northern Pygmy Owl that is actually diurnal and hunts during the day…. But this owl is unusual for these birds. After learning some facts about different CO owls, one camper was selected to get turned into an owl! Other campers had to think of adaptations that our owl camper was missing until they were a full-fledged nocturnal bird of prey! We concluded our own lesson by drawing portraits of ourselves as owls! We drew extra large eyes, because if human eyes were proportioned to our face as Owls, they would be the size of tennis balls! Each work of art was perfectly unique.
Typically our third camp activity would be critter crawl. However, the below freezing temperatures kept us out of the water and searching for nocturnal animal tracks on land! We were looking for a special twilight River visitor- the raccoon! Racoons who live in Denver frequent the South Platte River because water is important in helping raccoons explore their world. Touch is the most important sense for raccoons, it is how they learn about their food, and what is around them. Racoons can learn more from feeling object than looking at it! Water helps raccoons get a more accurate feel for the object they are exploring. We were successful in following some rabbit tracks to different places in our park, but did not find any racoon tracks. We did find some insects in the River that our racoon friends would munch on. Campers then tested their own sense of touch by trying to identify object by feeling rather than sight.
We concluded our day with a smelly activity to learn about a smelly animal- skunks. Skunks are very protective of their young, and will emit a smelly gas on any predator that attempts to attack them or their family. We played a game where a skunk camper had to protect their nest as predator bobcats tried to steal the skunk’s “baby”. The skunk camper had a spray bottle to spray any bobcat they heard coming. Skunks actually have an excellent sense of smell despite being some of the smelliest animals themselves. Their defense stench does not impact the skunk it came from (lucky for them)! After our game, campers tested their nose by smelling mystery scents and hypothesizing what smell was rubbed on their paper. It turns out there were a variety of smells we challenged our campers with including banana, strawberry, lemon, and orange!
Although it was cold, we had a great day learning about all the nighttime critters of Colorado. Next time you’re outside after the sun has gone down, take a close look for a big brown bat, a great horned owl, a raccoon, or even a skunk! There is a whole ecosystem awake while us humans sleep. We will see you soon down by the River!