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21 Dec 2022
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Environment & Nature

The Outer Banks is not only known for being an amazing vacation destination, but its unique climate and varied ecosystems create the perfect habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. People come from all over the world to catch a glimpse of the Corolla Wild Horses or the plentiful bird species that spend time on the Outer Banks, while the multiple maritime forests found throughout the region make these barrier islands an animal-lovers paradise. 

And while a trip to the beach or the NC Aquarium is sure to give you a chance to observe lots of native wildlife, there are many animals on the Outer Banks that prefer to make their appearances at night. Nocturnal animals are most active at night, opting to explore the beaches and forests of the Outer Banks after the sun has set. Here’s a list of some of the more well-known nocturnal animals that you might see if you’re out after dark during your stay.


For most people, raccoons aren’t entirely unfamiliar animals and you will more than likely find these sneaky little creatures exploring trash cans and maritime forests on the Outer Banks. These masked, feline animals primarily come out at night and can be seen rummaging through trash cans, looking for pet food left outside, or scavenging for bird eggs, frogs, and other possible natural delicacies.

While these little guys tend to be adorable, it’s important NOT to interact with them. If they feel cornered, they can and will attack humans and they are also known for the potential to carry rabies, a rare but potentially fatal disease. You can prevent raccoons from interfering with your vacation by keeping trashcans sealed and bringing in all food (including pet food) at the end of the day.


Despite their negative reputation, opossums are actually important nocturnal animals for the Outer Banks environment. These little guys primarily eat ticks and other annoying pests that we’d prefer to live without. They’re opportunistic feeders, meaning that they’ll also be digging into open trash cans and pet food when available, though they spend most of their time in trees or in their nests underground. They prefer not to fight - hence the violent hissing and scary face - but will “play dead” if threatened. It’s best to keep your distance if you happen to see an opossum during your stay and just let them keep eating the ticks and other bugs that would otherwise dampen your vacation fun.

Red Fox

The Red Fox is one of the more common nocturnal animals that you might see during your stay on the Outer Banks. These foxes are known for their bright red or rust-colored fur and they can be seen hunting for insects, birds, eggs, and fruit throughout the year. They tend to be shy and non-aggressive, but it is still important to give them their space if you see them in the wild. Like many of the animals on this list, their nocturnal nature means that it’s important to drive carefully at night to avoid hitting them on the highways and roadways, especially if you’re driving near swamps, marshes, or a maritime forest.

Luna Moth

These beautiful, bright green moths come out at night (like most moths) and are attracted to porch lights. Luna Moths are one of the largest moths in North America and while they are not technically rare, it isn’t super common to see one due to their short lifespan and night-time flight patterns. Since they pose no danger to humans, be sure to snap a picture when you see one. They can’t bite or sting and are absolutely gorgeous if you’re lucky enough to see one.

White-Tailed Deer

White-Tailed Deer are one of the more common animals that you’re likely to see on the Outer Banks, especially during dawn and dusk. They’re known for their tan or brown coat with white patches on their neck and ears. These deer have few natural predators on the Outer Banks, so hunting is allowed in certain areas of the Outer Banks at certain times of the year.

For the most part, you may end up seeing white-tailed deer as you're driving along the road in the evenings or early mornings or in fields the closer it gets to sunset. Like all the animals on this list, it’s best to enjoy them from a distance, taking photos but not getting too close.

Marsh Rabbit

Marsh Rabbits can occasionally be seen during the day, but they mostly move around at night, so they’ve found a spot on our list of nocturnal animals. These rabbits are medium-sized with dark brown fur and are only found around marshes and wetlands in the eastern part of North Carolina. They primarily eat roots and bulbs but will also eat twigs and bark when necessary. Marsh Rabbits tend to be reclusive, spending the day hiding out in clumps of grass and brush in remote areas.


While it may be surprising, coyotes are actually extremely prevalent on the Outer Banks, especially during the fall when the pups leave the den and begin exploring. Coyotes tend to look like mid-sized dogs and howl like wolves. Attacks on humans are extremely rare, though they will sometimes prey on pets if left outdoors at night. To avoid conflicts with these unique, adaptive, and fascinating animals, just be sure to secure trash cans, bring pets inside at night, and keep your distance - though they may look like dogs, definitely don’t try feeding coyotes treats.


Fortunately, we have beautiful and comfortable Outer Banks vacation rental homes available from Corolla all the way down to South Nags Head, which sits just a short drive from the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and plentiful wildlife-spotting opportunities. Take a look at our available rentals and find the perfect beach house for your next Outer Banks adventure. It’s never too early to plan ahead and never too late to book that last-minute getaway. So what’s stopping you? Book your next Outer Banks vacation rental with Seaside Vacations today!

About the Author: Lauren is a mom, author, and travel enthusiast. She grew up on the Outer Banks and only left for a few years to get her degree at UNC-Chapel Hill and complete a tour in the Coast Guard before making her way back to the beach in 2017. When she isn’t writing for the Seaside Vacations Travel Blog, Lauren can usually be found with a book and cup of tea in hand, planning her next travel adventure.