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What do Animals See?

Updated: Jan 30, 2021

Do you ever wonder how birds see the world? How insects find flowers, or why bats can hunt in the dark of night? In fact, many animals don't see the world the same way we do. Some animals can see much farther than we can, others see different colors. Every animal sees the world a little differently. Let's take a look at what those differences are!

Dogs and Cats

Dogs see less colors than humans do - only yellow, blue, and shades of grey. Cats can see blue, green, yellow, and grey; and similar to a color-blind human, the color red would appear green to a cat. However, both dogs and cats are able to see in dim light far better than we can.


Butterflies don't have sharp vision and therefore can't pick out much detail. However, they (like most insects) are able to see colors that humans cannot - ultraviolet colors. Many flowers have ultraviolet colors that mark out something like a landing strip for insects so they can easily find the nectar and pollinate the flower.

Flowers seen in ultraviolet light

(Photo credit: Tom Blegalski)

Illustration by: Michael Hagelberg


Some snakes have evolved special infrared sensors that they use at night to detect heat and allow the snakes to create a thermal image of any creature within a few feet of it. They can sense extremely small changes in temperature, an ability that is ten times greater than any infrared technology. During the day their vision is generally poor and these snakes will only strike at moving objects.

Photo credit: PunditCafe


Bats are not actually blind, and can see well in daylight. Some species of fruit bats can even see ultraviolet light. There are some species of insect eating bats that hunt at night and use echolocation to find their food when they can't see. To do this, they produce high-pitched clicks or squeaks and use the information from the echo that returns to them to create a mental image of what is around them.


Eagles have very sharp vision. They can see colors more vividly than humans do, and can also see ultraviolet light. Their field of view is almost double ours, and they can see almost behind their heads. Most impressively, eagles can see very far away, spotting a rabbit from around two miles away.


Chameleons eyes move independently from each other and they can see either two images at once or a single image. They can also rotate their eyes to see almost 360 degrees, all the way around them.

Think of how differently you would see the world if you saw it the way some animals do. Think of all the things you would miss, or the details you would suddenly be aware of. If the way you see the world effects what you're able to do and how you interpret reality, how would seeing it differently change things?

How does an animal's vision impact how they react to their environment? If you want to attract your dogs attention, should you offer a blue ball or a red one? Since deer can only see blue and green, how much more likely is it that a tiger can sneak up on them without being seen? Rather than thinking "That deer is so stupid, he didn't even see that bright tiger in the bushes," now you know to think "I wonder why the deer didn't see the tiger, maybe it sees the world differently than I do."

Activity #1

Open a bag of skittles and empty them on the ground of a room. When it's night, turn off the lights and go into the dark room. How well can you see the skittles? Can you tell what color each candy is? Look around the room. What details can you make out? How quickly can you find your way around?

Now turn on the light. Can you see what's in the room better now? Can you find your way around faster? Imagine this is the difference between your night vision and a cats.

Write out a paragraph of what you would do differently if you could see at night. Would you spend more time exploring? Would you stay up at night instead of the day?

Activity #2

If you could change the way you see the world so that you see things like a certain animal does, what animal would you choose? Why would you want to see the world the way they do? Would you want to see ultraviolet light, or have excellent distance vision? Do you want to see thermal images, or be able to see in the dark?

Take out a piece of paper, and write out at 1-2 paragraphs explaining what you would do if your vision changed and you had the ability to see the world differently.

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