Dolphins, eagles, and other animals with better vision than you
When it comes to a lot of natural abilities, humans are by far top of the pile.
We can use tools like cutlery and computers and surgical equipment to improve our lives and society as a whole.
We can conceive complex, multidimensional ideas, and project into the future and think back long into the past.
And when it comes to vision, well, we can see pretty well. We can perceive a decent range of the colour spectrum. We can see stars that are millions of light-years away. And we can see minute details as small as 0.1 millimetres, including those new tiny creases at the corner of your eyes.
Each animal’s vision is adapted for their particular circumstances and environment, so it’s difficult to say one is “better” than the other. But the fact is, there are several animals that could be said to outdo us in the vision department.
Take the leaf-tailed gecko. These little reptiles have vertical pupils that contain a series of “pinholes” that widen at night, allowing for incredible night vision—up to 350 times better than a human.
Or how about goats. As well as being able to eat everything, including poison ivy, they have rectangular pupils that allow for up to 340-degree field of vision—meaning they can be grazing with their head down, but all the while be starting right at you.
We’re going to take a closer look at some of these incredible visual wonders of the animal kingdom. In particular, we’ll explore some of the best peepers around, so you can decide for yourself how your vision stacks up.
The common phrase “to keep an eagle eye” on someone or something gives you an idea of the strength of an eagle’s vision.
In fact, with eyesight that’s estimated to be four to eight times stronger than that of the average human, it’s believed birds of prey like eagles and falcons have some of the best eyes in the animal kingdom. If a human had eagle vision, it would mean 20/4 resolution.
All birds of prey have great long-distance vision. It’s essential to avoid collisions while flying at high speeds (the Peregrine falcon can at speeds of over 200 miles or 320 km per hour) and for capturing fast-moving or camouflaged prey.
But the sight of an eagle stands out—it is said they can spot a rabbit 3.2 km away. While humans can see a candle flame at that distance, an eagle, with eyes the same size as us, can zoom in on it, shift focus, and see a wider range of colours, allowing them to put it on the menu before it has time to escape.
Unless, that is, the sun is setting and it quickly turns to night.
Moving to predators of the night, owls are the birds that take the crown and reign supreme over the skies when the sun goes down.
Unlike most birds, which have eyes that sit at an angle and therefore allow for a wider scope of vision, owl eyes face directly forward and can’t move or roll around. At first, this might seem like a disadvantage, but one of the things owls are most known for, that they can turn they head nearly all the way around (allowing 270 degrees of vision or more without moving their bodies), is also their biggest advantage.
Having such an ocular setup means owls have excellent binocular vision. Ever felt you’re being stared at while walking through the woods at night? Yep, it’s likely there’s an owl staring right at you—not with their eyeballs, owls don’t have “eyeballs” per se, but rather elongated tubes held rigidly in place by bones called sclerotic rings.
As well as being able to see exceptionally well at night, owls are advanced in that they can also see well during the day. But their vision is slightly blurry and they can’t see colours well, so you don’t have to worry too much about getting the evil eye.
Eagles may be able to spot a rabbit from over 3km away and owls may be able to light up the night sky with their tubes, but mantis shrimps may take the prize for having the most complex eyes in the animal—well, marine crustacean—kingdom.
They are so complex that seeing the world through the eyes of a mantis shrimp might just make it onto your bucket list. For example, the human eye has three types of cones, blue, green, and red, that allow us to see the colours red through violet. Mantis shrimp have sixteen types of cones.
Scientific research shows this doesn’t necessarily mean mantis shrimp perceive the world in a fantastical array of unimaginable colours. But it does suggest they can notice minute changes in colour almost instantaneously.
The eyes of mantis shrimps can move independently, much like that of a chameleon. Each eye also has three “pseudo-pupils” stacked one on top of the other, allowing the crustaceans to see beyond humans on both ends of the light spectrum, into ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths.
Combining their ocular capacity with the fastest punches in the ocean, mantis shrimps are formidable predators. The spring-loaded club strikes fifty times faster than we can blink, firing at such a pace that pockets of seawater vaporize in implosions of light and heat, and it can be used to crack snail shells, panes of aquarium glass, and human thumbs.
Dolphins, with their ability to use sound, or echolocation, to navigate the ocean and detect the size, shape, and speed of objects underwater, are better known for their ears (well, dolphins use many body parts for hearing) than their eyes. But the fact is, dolphins actually have just as impressive eyes, primarily thanks to them being located on the side of their heads.
Humans have eyes positioned in parallel on the front of the head. This is typical of an animal that requires great depth perception—one visual field of 3D vision that spans about 180 degrees of space—for hunting, or for us, more things seeing cars coming and watching Netflix. Dolphins, on the other hand, with their eyes placed latterly and which can move independently, boast 300-degree panoramic vision.
You’ve seen the playful looks of dolphins with one eye directed toward you and another on some other thing way over there. This is possible thanks to a brain that can process two separate visual fields at the same time—yep, they can see two different things at the same time. Pretty smart, for the smartest aquatic mammal in the animal kingdom.
Find out how you can improve your vision with Laser Eye Surgery or book your consultation today by getting in touch with one of our friendly clinic coordinators.