By Michelle Trauring
When the sun goes down, they come out to play — owls, snakes, geckos, bats, tarantulas and even leopards, to name a few — bringing to life a world that humans, who are diurnal, never see.
In fact, the majority of the animal kingdom is nocturnal, and Long Island is no stranger to critters that go bump in the night, according to Cara Fernandes, who will bring a number of creatures to Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island on Saturday, November 25, for an up-close-and-personal look and, in some cases, a petting session.
“You can definitely touch our corn snake and our leopard gecko that we usually bring along with us, depending on the weather. She’s very cute; she’s getting really big now and is just super healthy,” Fernandes said. “We also have Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Those are really big cockroaches, and they’re actually really easy to handle and hold. They don’t jump or bite or fly, they’re just really cool decomposers that we like to teach with.”
For each animal, Fernandes will discuss their nocturnal adaptations — which often include highly developed smell, eyesight and hearing — that are critical for surviving in the dark. Their very nature of sleeping during the day is a survival instinct, whether it’s to keep out of the heat, find food or avoid being another animal’s next meal, she explained.
“Birds of prey, like the great horned owl, live all across Long Island. They are probably the best nighttime predator of our native Long Island wildlife,” Fernandes said. “If we were an owl, our eyes would be the size of grapefruits in our heads. They have really specialized eyes and ears for hunting at night.”
The wildlife center’s great horned owl won’t make it to Shelter Island, but the screech owl will, as well as the Honduran curly haired tarantula and a few special guests to join the corn snake, leopard gecko, Madagascar hissing cockroaches and taxidermy bats.
“We have seven native bat species on Long Island, and the little brown bat can eat 1,000 mosquitoes in one hour,” Fernandes said. “That’s pretty incredible.”
Notably absent will be Princess the possum — a famously misunderstood marsupial on Long Island, Fernandes said.
“Sometimes people are afraid of possums. They’re very popular to see on the side of the road — unfortunately as road kill — but they can groom themselves and actually eat 5,000 ticks off their bodies in one season,” she said. “So that’s something we’ll talk about, even though we don’t have our possum that we were teaching with.”
About a month ago, Princess died of old age at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge. She was 4½.
“In the wild, they only live to be about 1 to 2 years old, and in captivity, they usually max out around 4, so we had her for a really long time and she was so sweet,” Fernandes said. “She lived a really long time. Poor Princess. She brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.”
Environmental Educator Cara Fernandes will lead “Creatures of the Night: A Live Animal Presentation” on Saturday, November 25, at 1 p.m. at Mashomack Preserve, located at 79 South Ferry Road on Shelter Island. Admission is a free will donation and registration is required. For more information, call (631) 749-4219 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.