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Wolves have better night vision than we do, enough that they can quite happily hunt on moonlit nights.

But what about when there is no moonlight? Intuitively it seems to me that with no moon or nearby city skyglow, it's pitch dark; even wolves cannot see when there is effectively no light, and while they can follow a scent trail, they need to see what they are aiming at to actually make a kill, so they would have to wait for either the moon or the sun to rise.

Is that an accurate assessment, or am I missing something?

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Wolves and coyotes are crepuscular, not nocturnal. That is, they hunt in the early morning and in the evening, not at night.

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    Real life doesn't care how you classify a creature. Cats are obligate carnivores but mine refused to eat chicken. Loves potatoes though. I imagine opportunistic creatures like wolves would continue in pitch black conditions, if they found an easy prey. – speciesUnknown Apr 24 at 12:11
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    @speciesUnknown "Obligate carnivore" means that it can't survive without eating any meat. It doesn't mean that it needs to eat every kind of meat, and it doesn't mean that everything that isn't meat is poisonous to it. – Joseph Sible-Reinstate Monica Apr 24 at 18:04
  • Thats not strictly true Joseph. Vegetables arent poisonous to an obligate carnivore, but they aren't a healthy thing to feed them either. Cats and other strict carnivores have much shorter digestive tracts designed to process protein quickly and expel it to make room for more. As a result they are unable to fully process fibrous materials and vegetables in general, so an excess can cause serious dietry problems. As a general rule they wont eat any plant matter unless certain factors intervene (Ie they are trying to induce vomiting or whatever) – Shayne Apr 25 at 7:52
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    Which, I might add, you should report people trying to feed cats vegan meals to the ASPCA. Its wildly held as dangerous by the vet industry, and cruel by law enforcement. (And places like reddit are filled with dangerous fools who advocate it despite the inherent misery such actions generate in the victims of such diets) – Shayne Apr 25 at 7:53
  • nice. evening vs night. maybe someday there will be a question with an answer that makes a distinction of afternoon vs pre-evening/preevning/prevening/preevening – BCLC Apr 26 at 7:58
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There are usually some light sources, even on a moonless night there are stars. Even with thin cloud cover it is not that bad, it blocks some light but also reflects some. Only a really overcast night is going to be "completely dark", and that's not that common. Animals that are active at dawn/dusk/night have generally adapted to make do with really, really low levels of light. (Think about cats, insects, and owls. They definitely hunt even on moonless nights!)

Additionally, wolves may be able to sense heat (infrared) with their noses. Variations on infrared are how a lot of animals which have otherwise poor eyesight or live in really dark conditions (caves or burrows) are able to hunt (e.g. snakes).

Wolves may be most active at dawn and dusk, but that doesn't mean they turn into rocks at night (or during the day).

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    +1 for the Nature paper on dogs detecting radiant heat with their noses – WaterMolecule Apr 25 at 2:00

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