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How Do Our Eyes Rate Against The Rest of The Animal Kingdom?

October 14, 2015

We humans have a lot to brag about among our relatives in the animal kingdom.

Our biggest advantages stem from our highly advanced brains, allowing us to communicate and create tools. But when it comes to vision, a lot of animals have us beat—in more ways than one!

Here are three visual abilities animals have that our eyes just can’t match:

Animal Advantage #1: Fast Perception Time

A recent study measured the visual perception speed of various animals, with surprising results! By blinking a light on and off at different frequencies and monitoring brain activity, researchers could tell how fast the subject could register light flashes.

Humans clocked in at 60 hz, meaning our brains can perceive about 60 light flashes per second. The common housefly, however, blew away all other participants, able to perceive 250 flashes per second! That would be like seeing everything in slow-motion—and it explains why flies are so hard to swat!

Animal Advantage #2: Superior Night Vision

Our feline friends have the upper hand when it comes to navigating at night. Cats, who are naturally nocturnal animals, have several advantages that make their eyes better in dim conditions:

  • They have a higher concentration of light-detecting “rod” cells, as opposed to our color-distinguishing “cone” cells.
  • They have an additional reflective surface behind their retinas called the tapetum, which reflects light into photoreceptors (and explains why their eyes glow in photos).
  • Their slit-like pupils can expand or contract farther and faster than ours to adjust to lighting.

It’s estimated that cats only need one sixth the light we do to operate at night!

Animal Advantage #3: Incredible Color Range

The three types of “cone” cells in our eyes are sensitive to red, green, and blue light, but that range makes up only a small part of the light spectrum.

Other animals have more types of photoreceptors sensitive to light that is invisible to us! For example, birds have four types, allowing them to see ultraviolet light, butterflies have five, and the bizarre mantis shrimp has up to sixteen! Scientists are still researching what possible use this amazing visual range is to the crustacean, but they may use it as a communication tool.

But Let’s Be Grateful for the Eyes We Have

While some animals’ eyes certainly do outclass ours, we have good enough vision to do what’s important in our daily lives—as well as experience the breathtaking beauty all around us! And we want to make sure that every one of our patients is able to enjoy the gift of sight for a lifetime.

We look forward to talking with you on your next visit!


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