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25 Jan 13

Shedding Light on Creatures of the Dark

An exhibition of nocturnal creatures at the Natural History Museum explains how and why some birds, animals and insects opted for life in the dark.

Nemanja Cabric
BIRN Belgrade

The exhibition “From Dusk to Dawn“ (“Od sumraka do svitanja”) displays some 50 different creatures that live by night from January 23 to June.

All of the specimens belong to museum collections and were selected by ornithologist Marko Rakovic to provide a deeper insight into why some animals that were previously active during daytime, like the iconic kiwi of New Zealand, changed their habits.

Unlike people, who rely on eyesight for about 80 per cent of their perception of the world around them, some animals depend more on hearing, smell, or echoes.

Night is the time when these animals hunt for prey or reproduce, while by day they mostly rest, well hidden in their shelters.

Among the night creatures on show are various insects, bats, small rodents and some species of bird that adapted to night living by imitating the night mammals and insects that they rely on for food.

Many animals adapted special skills in order to live at night: almost perfect sense of smell, noiseless flight or walk and sensitive feelers.

Because of their mysterious life, which people can only imagine by listening to the strange sounds coming from the darkness, many of these animals became parts of folklore and were ascribed with supernatural powers.

Howls represented a sign of magic and sometimes foretold death. The eerie-sounding nightjar, the Leganj in Serbian, was even believed to suck the milk of goats.

Romans believed that salamanders were born and lived in fire.

It was also believed that a wolf’s skull and the wing of a bat had magical powers.

The exhibition presents species that mostly live in the Balkans, but also in other places. Selected birds include screech owls, tawny owls, long-tailed owls, little owls, nightjars, nightingales and kiwis; mammals include bats, wolves, wild boars, hedgehogs, badgers and pine martens.

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