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In zoology, a crepuscular animal is one that is active primarily during the twilight period, being matutinal, vespertine, or both. This is distinguished from diurnal and nocturnal behavior, where an animal is active during the hours of daylight and of darkness, respectively. Some crepuscular animals may also be active by moonlight or during an overcast day. Matutinal animals are active only before sunrise, and vespertine only after sunset.
A number of factors impact the time of day an animal is active. Predators hunt when their prey is available, and prey try to avoid the times when their principal predators are at large. The temperature at midday may be too high or at night too low. Some creatures may adjust their activities depending on local competition.
Etymology and usage
The word crepuscular derives from the Latin crepusculum ("twilight"). Its sense accordingly differs from diurnal and nocturnal behavior, which respectively peak during hours of daylight and darkness. The distinction is not absolute however, because crepuscular animals may also be active on a bright moonlit night or on a dull day. Some animals casually described as nocturnal are in fact crepuscular.
Special classes of crepuscular behaviour include matutinal (or "matinal", animals active only in the dawn) and vespertine (only in the dusk). Those active during both times are said to have a bimodal activity pattern.
The various patterns of activity are thought to be mainly antipredator adaptations, though some could equally well be predatory adaptations. Many predators forage most intensively at night, whereas others are active at midday and see best in full sun. Thus, the crepuscular habit may both reduce predation pressure, thereby increasing the crepuscular populations, and in consequence offer better foraging opportunities to predators that increasingly focus their attention on crepuscular prey until a new balance is struck. Such shifting states of balance are often found in ecology.
Some predatory species adjust their habits in response to competition from other predators. For example, the subspecies of short-eared owl that lives on the Galápagos Islands is normally active during the day, but on islands like Santa Cruz that are home to the Galapagos hawk, the owl is crepuscular.
Apart from the relevance to predation, crepuscular activity in hot regions also may be the most effective way of avoiding heat stress while capitalizing on available light.
Occurrence of crepuscular behaviour
Many familiar mammal species are crepuscular, including some bats, hamsters, housecats, stray dogs, rabbits, ferrets, and rats. Other crepuscular mammals include jaguars, ocelots, bobcats, servals, strepsirrhines, red pandas, bears, deer, moose, sitatunga, capybaras, chinchillas, the common mouse, skunks, squirrels, foxes, wombats, wallabies, quolls, possums and marsupial gliders, tenrecs, and spotted hyenas.
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