Hamsters, rats, mice, and gerbils all can be described as nocturnal small pets and even though some are in fact crepuscular, they all like to sleep during the day. In this article, we’ll show you how best to care for your nocturnal critters, how to get the best large cages for big hamsters, and how to adapt to your pet’s sleeping schedule.
Types of nocturnal pets
Nocturnal pets are animals which are most active during the night and sleep during the day. They have evolved over thousands of years so that different predators can hunt in the same meadow or field for the same prey without getting into conflict with each other.
Of course, when it comes to pets that no longer live in the wild, they don’t have to compete for their food anymore but there’s no way to remove thousands of years of evolution, so you will have to learn how to live with a nocturnal pet and how to care for it.
Here we will present a list of some of the most popular nocturnal small pets, namely hamsters, gerbils, rats, and mice. While not all of these pets are strictly nocturnal, they do exhibit similar patterns and owners should be aware of their sleeping schedule before committing to one.
Hamsters are the most popular small pets to have, they like to live alone and they are most active during the night. They won’t disturb you too much during the day since as long as you give them toys that don’t make too much noise, the sound of them playing and munching in the cage won’t be too much for you to handle.
Much like humans, hamsters can also have their own sleep patterns, so it is hard to predict their sleeping schedule.
Gerbils too are very popular among small pet lovers and while they are bold and curious animals, they have a nocturnal behavior. While a new owner might rightfully believe that these pets are strictly nocturnal, their day is actually divided into varying cycles of play and sleep.
Mongolian gerbils, which are the most commonly available pet gerbils, are diurnal, which means that just like humans, they are most active during the day, but they do sleep quite frequently throughout the day. While they’re sleeping, they should be left alone so as not to anger them.
There are also gerbil species that are crepuscular, which can easily be mistaken for nocturnal. If an animal is crepuscular, it means that it will be most active around the periods of dawn and dusk. The most popular crepuscular pets are cats.
With that said, there are some species such as the fat-tailed gerbil which have actually become more active during the daytime instead of at dawn and dusk. If you want to get a gerbil and don’t want to be at odds with your pet, then Mongolian and fat-tailed gerbils are the ideal species to get.
Unlike hamsters or gerbils, rats do not have the same reputation for being lovable or cute, but nonetheless, they are very clean, cuddly, docile, and smart which are all characteristics owners seek in a pet. Just as hamsters, they are nocturnal, but due to their high intelligence many will, in fact, adjust to the owner’s schedule. With time they can become diurnal pets.
Finally, another nocturnal small pet that you can get is a mouse. Just as is the case with rats, getting a mouse for a pet can be a difficult sell, until you actually meet one. Mice are very adaptable, curious, and they can thrive in almost any environment which means that caring for them is very easy.
The main problem with mice is that they can get frightened easily by loud noises and seeing as they are nocturnal, they will need a peaceful environment to get the rest they need during the day.
How to care for nocturnal pets
If you do want to get a nocturnal pet, you will soon be surprised by how often and how much they sleep during the day. In fact, most owners of nocturnal pets will spend most of their time at odds with their pet since while the owner wants to play during the day, the pet only wants to sleep.
Conversely, during the night when the owner wants to sleep, the pet will be most active and if you are not used to this dynamic, the first few days or weeks might feel a bit awkward for you. That is not to say that you won’t have opportunities to play with your nocturnal pet since there will be plenty of occasions when your rat, hamster, or mouse will be active during the day.
It is important not to disturb the sleep of your pet no matter how much you want to play with it; this is why you should not get a nocturnal pet if you don’t like the idea of not seeing too much of your pet during daylight hours.
While the cage of your pet should be kept in a place where it can get a lot of human interaction so that it can get used with humans, it is also important to keep in an area where its sleep won’t be disturbed during the day. Because you will need to provide your nocturnal pet with a home that is cozy, bedding is essential.
Hamsters, gerbils, mice, and rats all love to make their own little beds using bedding, and each pet prefers different raw materials, so make sure that you purchase the bedding that is right for them. Don’t give your pets fluffy bedding as it can be a big choking hazard.
Sleep is important for every living creature, and while the desire to play with your pet once you see it wiggling about in its sleep is understandable, you should always allow it to wake up naturally before you begin a play session.
A small nocturnal pet that is woken up from its sleep is more likely to get angry and bite the owner. Patience is crucial when caring for these pets, and while each critter has its own sleep pattern, you can expect to have lots of hours of playtime before you go to sleep.
Speaking of that, it is important to keep your pet entertained and provide it with outlets for independent play since you can’t spend your whole night playing together. There are numerous toys that you can get depending on the type of pet you have. A quick visit to your favorite pet or online shop will help you find tons of fun toys.
Should you change your pet’s sleeping pattern?
The main habit of nocturnal pets is that they often spend most of the day sleeping, and they are active mostly during the night or in the case of crepuscular animals during the dawn and dusk. Many owners wonder if they can change this pattern since they obviously don’t need to hunt or search for food anymore.
While you should never wake up a pet that is sleeping since it can lead to it becoming angry and tired, there are a few methods you can try to change your pet’s sleeping schedule to give you more time to spend together.
One way to encourage the critter to be more active early in the evening is to try and feed it at a slightly earlier time. Pets are more likely to wake up when they hear the sound of the owner putting food in the cage. If you stick to this schedule each day, it can lead to their sleeping schedule changing gradually.
Furthermore, you can try and reduce the amount of light your furry companion gets during the evening to make it wake up naturally. With the light in the room decreasing, the pet is more likely to think that it is time to wake up.
Why are animals nocturnal?
Although it is well-known that animals that are nocturnal sleep during the day and are active at night mainly because of food-related reasons and because they have good night vision, there are a few other important reasons behind their nocturnal nature.
One of them is that it is easier to hunt at night. Nocturnal animals have good night vision, which provides them with an advantage over their prey that is usually on the opposite side when it comes to night vision. When preying on animals, it is easier to sneak up on them in dimmed light.
Another reason why animals are nocturnal is that it is easier to go undetected at night. Even if nocturnal animals have a well-developed sense of smell, which helps them detect both prey animals and predators, it is still easier for them to remain undetected at night.
The dark actually helps both categories of nocturnal animals, prey animals and predators alike. The former will use the darkness to forage more safely, while the latter will take advantage of the same darkness to prey on other animals with greater ease.
What’s more, some predators are active and thus hunt at night when their prey animals are also active since the latter will be mobile and, therefore, their movements will make it easier for the predator to detect them.
It sounds ironic, but darkness helps some nocturnal animals survive and others kill. Each of the two nocturnal animal categories – the prey animals and the predators – tries to benefit from the advantages of darkness. While some of them find it easier to hunt for food, others try to lower their chances of being detected and thus becoming a target.
It is believed that some nocturnal animals became active at night to reduce the risk of conflicts over available food. Since many animals are diurnal, they hunt for food during the day, which means greater competition and lower chances of succeeding in getting food.
Another reason why some animal species are nocturnal has to do with heat avoidance. Nocturnal animals living in the desert are active at night because it is cooler. Furthermore, they can thus avoid water waste by not overheating.
Some nocturnal animals may have developed this schedule to be able to breed peacefully. A good example is the sea turtle. Female sea turtles come out of the water to lay their eggs, and since these turtles are aquatic animals, as their name suggests, they move on land with greater difficulty. The night makes things a bit easier as there are fewer predators that could endanger their lives. The turtles are thus more likely to find a spot to lay the eggs safely.
Each nocturnal animal species is active at night because of various reasons, and what led to their evolution as animals that are active at night differs from one species to another.
Nocturnal animals and nighttime vision
One of the things that enable nocturnal animals to be active even when it’s dark is their nighttime vision. But what makes nocturnal animals see so well at night? Various eye characteristics enable them to benefit from this advantage.
As you have probably noticed, many of them have large eyes, and the size of their eyes actually contributes to their excellent nighttime vision. For example, the pupils of cats and owls cover the entire front part of the eye when they are wide open. What’s more, the owls’ eyes are so big that they occupy over half of their skull volume. This enables them to collect more light.
Plus, many nocturnal animals have a layer known as tapetum behind their retina. This mirror-like layer enables them to see even when there is a small amount of light. The light that gets through the retina is reflected off this layer, which means the retinal cells have another chance to sense it.
This layer is also why the eyes of such animals shine when exposed to car headlights, for example. The pigment on this inner layer is the color that you see then.
Additionally, the retinas of nocturnal animals have few cones. In a human’s eyes, the cones connect to certain circuits that will send ‘dark’ or ‘light’ signals to the brain, and this is what makes our eyes more sensitive to the edges and movements of the objects we see.
What is different when it comes to nocturnal animals and makes them enjoy better vision in low-light conditions is that they have a pathway that enables the rods to connect to the ‘dark’ circuits the cones use.
Plus, the nuclei of the rod cells in nocturnal animals are also different. The center of the nucleus is also where the densest material can be found, and this is what focuses the entire amount of light available in just one area. When it comes to diurnal animals, the densest material of the rod cell nucleus is around its edges, and that scatters all the absorbed light around the edges.
Nocturnal animals with great nighttime vision include animals such as cats, owls, and tarsiers. This nocturnal animal list is not limited only to these animals, but these species do stand out through their remarkable nighttime vision.
For example, each of a cat’s eyes has 25 rods for a single cone, and even if this means that their color vision isn’t that good, cats can see well with very little light, more precisely, one-eighth of the light humans need to see. Add the tapetum mentioned above and the fact that their pupils widen significantly more than ours, and you can only imagine what they see like.
As we’ve said above, owls have very large eyes, which enables them to see even when there is very little light available. However, because their eyes are so big, owls can’t swivel them inside the sockets as humans can. Still, an owl can turn its head almost entirely around, which provides them with a wide visual field.
Tarsiers stand out through their big eyes that take up almost their entire heads. Since they are nocturnal nights feeding mainly on insects, little birds, and lizards, they evolved in such a way to be able to see the often tiny prey even when there is little light available. Just like owls, tarsiers cannot swivel their eyes inside the sockets, but they can rotate their heads 180 degrees.
Other highly-developed senses of nocturnal animals
Still, many nocturnal animals don’t rely only on their vision to carry out their nocturnal activities and stay safe. Some species also have a heightened sense of smell or hearing that complements their nighttime vision.
For example, bats rely on echolocation to move around and find food. They are well-known for the high-pitched sounds they produce. These sounds bounce off the objects they encounter, including prey animals. The echoes then help the bat know more about how far the prey animals or objects are.
Owls and some cats also have a well-developed sense of hearing that helps them hunt. The ears of owls are offset, while large cats have highly maneuverable ears. Some nocturnal animals rely on the sense of smell to communicate or sense prey. Taste is also another sense that some nocturnal animals use to navigate and find the prey animals of interest.
Other such animals have sensory receptors sensitive to heat, and these receptors help them find food and navigate. And let’s not forget about whiskers. The sensory receptors on these specialized hairs enable nocturnal animals to find food at night. Anthropods have such receptors on hair that covers their entire body.
Now that you know more nocturnal animal facts and found the answers to questions such as ‘what animals are nocturnal?’, it should be easier for you to understand more about the advantages and disadvantages of keeping a nocturnal animal as a pet.
But are all hamsters nocturnal, for example? One would be tempted to say ‘yes, they are’, but just like humans are different when it comes to their sleeping pattern, so are hamsters, and some of them can have a different schedule than expected.
Are cats nocturnal animals? The same answer applies here. Yes, cats are primarily nocturnal animals, but they might also engage in crepuscular behavior and thus be active at dawn and dusk. Some house cats might not display nocturnal behavior at all, and the only way to know that if you want to get one is to watch the cat’s behavior for a few days or weeks.
No matter which nocturnal animal you decide to get, if you do make such a decision, it is best to consider the maintenance and care required carefully. You can thus know if you have the time, resources, and energy to take good care of the pet.
If you are a light sleeper, and your home isn’t big enough to allow you to place the pet cage somewhere far from you at least at night, it is probably best to go for a diurnal pet.