Night Creatures: Tracks, Spiders, and Bats

The following was written for a library program where the participants were ranging in age from babies to 4th grade. I wanted to present it here with some pictures I’ve taken over the years. Enjoy, and pass it on to kids you know… Perhaps they will take the time to read some morning stories of the night before!

Tracks, Spiders, and Bats: Night Creatures

Wild Turkeys are a frequent sight in Sanbornton in the evening or early morning.

How can you tell what was stirring in the night, while you were fast asleep in your bed? Most of you have never stayed up past nightfall outside, and even if you did, in the dark how would you see what was happening? Night creatures have special adaptations to help them get around in the dark, to find food, avoid predators, and keep track of their families. Most animals and insects see better in the night than we do. Bats don’t use their eyes to get around – they use their ears.

Deer come to take a drink from a pond or a brook at night, leaving their tracks for you to find.

But in the morning when you get out of bed and put on your clothes and shoes to talk an early walk, you can find signs of what happened out there last night. In the dew you might find a darker line, where a larger animal like a deer or a moose walked through the grass and rubbed against foliage, knocking the silvery dew off and leaving a trace of their passage. In a muddy place, near a pond or brook, you may find the tracks of nocturnal prowlers. Once you learn to identify the tracks, you will be able to read interesting stories in mud and snow written by animals hunting and playing.

Bobcats roam the New Hampshire night. Elusive wild cats are rarely seen except by their tracks.


Raccons still need a drink in winter, this is a trail made by one on his way too and from the brook for water.

In the dewy grass of your yard, or a field, you will find the silvery webs of spiders, spun nightly by the industrious arthropods. Spiders don’t all spin webs, but those who do have many different designs they make to capture their prey and provide shelter for themselves. Spiders are helpful creatures, keeping the insect populations down so you can play outside without too many biting pests, and grow plants in your garden. Spiders don’t bite until they feel threatened, so watch with your eyes, but don’t touch.

The Garden Spider, Argiope species, weaves a beautiful orb web.


The wolf spider is a great hunter of the night, but does not make a web.

One animal you won’t find traces of is the bat… Bats don’t walk on land, they soar through the pitch black night, using high-pitched noises to locate prey and avoid obstacles. Bats eat their weight in insects every night, helping keep the mosquito population down. Their echolocation enables them to bounce noise off an object, then interpret the echo, being able to identify shapes and decide what they want to eat, and what to fly around.

This poor bat got trapped in our living room… by the webs on him, I’d say he came down our chimney. We pushed him out gently with a broom and a net. You must never touch a wild animal, as they may bite and carry diseases.

Visit  NH Fish and Game for a track identification card.

The Wasp Apologia

An unknown to me species of wasp on Goldenrod.

In defense of the humble wasp, so hated and feared by most humans, I put forth the following argument: the wasp is better than the mosquito.

Every spring our old farmhouse is invaded by gentle brown paper wasps. They hibernate in the walls and roof through the winter, and a few become confused and make their way into the house, rather than outdoors, where they meant to emerge. I usually do kill them, because the children panic and make unappealing noises. But in the 20 years the family has been living here, there have been no cases of unprovoked brown paper wasp stings. We did have one summer when very aggressive Yellow Jackets came indoors and stung everyone at least once, so we kill those on sight.

As a scary sight, the yellow jacket is right up there for inducing screaming and running.

Wasps are interesting, intelligent (relative to an insect, mind you) little creatures. Most important to us, they are voracious insectivores. No doubt you were thinking that the wasp, like the honeybee, lived on nectar and pollen. While they do to some extent, as well as fruits and anything sweet they can find, small insects like mosquitoes form a large part of their diet.

Feared for their sting, most species won’t use it unless provoked by a swat. Our little brown invaders usually just fly into windows and stare disconsolately out at the unreachable fresh air. Last summer I picked berries in company with hungry little wasps that looked like tiny, fuzzy yellow jackets, and who moved aside with the gentle nudge of a fingertip. Generally, wasps will leave you alone if you leave them alone, and it can be argued that they are good to have around. Mosquitoes carry disease, wasps don’t.

A wasp on the fingertip of my cleaning glove.

I’m not attempting proper identification of my wasp species, partly because I can’t. There are so many species of wasps, and they interbreed prolifically, that it’s almost impossible to be certain. Here in New Hampshire, we have several common ones.

  • Yellow Jackets, the bully of the wasp world
  • Brown Paper Wasps, the gentle ones
  • Bald-Faced Hornets, the giant wasps
  • Spider-Killers, the most fearsome predator I’ve ever watched in action.

Spider-Killers are well worth observing if you are lucky enough to have them in your area. Gorgeous creatures, metallic blue-black and with a long wasp waist, they even look lethal. When you realize that they hunt, paralyze, and then feed the still-living spiders to their larvae, you will respect them as well. Watching them fly nape of the earth, looking for all the world like a military helicopter on maneuvers is a fun thing to do on a warm summer day.

This is a honeybee, not a wasp. Their venom is also different, and a bee dies after one sting.

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