Reptiles have very odd and different eyes from our own, especially the distinctive protruding, rotating eyes of a chameleon. Watching your pet reptile interact with its surroundings probably has you wondering what their vision is really like and how they see the world compared to us in terms of distance, quality, and color.
Yes, many reptiles have excellent vision in ways that enable their survival. Snakes, for instance, possess infrared vision whilst lizards such as geckos and chameleons have incredible adaptations in night vision and near 360-degree eyesight respectively.
If you’ve ever been curious as to how chameleons’ eyes work or how iguanas, geckos, and snakes view the world, read on! We’ll explore how well reptiles can see in the dark, what colors they can perceive, and more.
Which Reptile Has the Best Vision?
Lizards typically have the best vision among the world’s reptiles and the lizard with the greatest vision is the Chameleon due to its ability to move each eye independently from one another, granting them almost 360-degree vision. Let’s look at the chameleon’s incredible sight in more detail, plus other reptiles with amazing vision…
Their incredible camouflaging ability is not the only thing making these lizards unique – chameleons are the only animal on the planet to possess their unique eye anatomy which allows them to switch between monocular and binocular vision thanks to their one-of-a-kind nerve organization.
A chameleon’s eyeballs are mounted on cone-shaped turrets which allow them to rotate with relative freedom. Because their eyes are positioned on opposite sides of their head, this means they can view the same scene from the side, front, or behind them at the same time, switching from monocular to binocular vision whenever they need to.
In contrast, humans have a deep orbital socket to prevent our eyeballs from falling out, whereas chameleons possess a muscular eyelid structure that enables their pupils to protrude forward, like an eyeball appearing from the end of a telescope! In addition to this incredible multi-way vision, chameleons can also see all the colors we do as well as UV (Ultraviolet) Light which we cannot.
Iguanas have amazing sight in many ways but their most incredible evolutionary feature is their parietal or ‘third’ eye. This extra eye is found at the top of their head and appears like another, lighter-colored scale but it is another eye (sort of).
An iguana’s third eye acts as a photoreceptor, so it can’t make out shapes and colors and is sensitive to UV light, but it can detect light, dark, and movement – making it perfect for helping iguanas sense a bird overhead. In addition to this extra eye, iguanas also possess double photoreceptors in their regular eyes that increase the contrast and quality of their vision, enabling them to view colors much more vividly than humans can!
As most geckos are nocturnal – such as the Helmethead Gecko of north-west Africa – they have adapted exceptionally well to the dark and have the best night vision among the reptiles due to their unique eye mechanisms. First of all, their large eyes can shrink or enlarge in size depending on the available light and they have multi-focal lenses within their eyeballs which essentially means they can receive images at two different depths, distances, and wavelengths.
What’s more, nocturnal geckos also have highly-sensitive photoreceptors which is been found to be 350 times higher than those in humans – allowing them to perceive colors at a high resolution even in the dimmest moonlight.
Compared to lizards, most snakes have relatively poor vision, but some species have a significant advantage over other reptiles due to their Infrared or ‘thermal’ vision. This amazing development in their evolution has allowed vipers, rattlesnakes, boa constrictors, and pythons to detect the heat given off by a nearby animal, allowing them to easily perceive their prey in dim or dark settings.
This thermal vision is attributed to the snake’s ‘pit organs’ located between their eyes and nostrils which are built like a large pinhole camera. Within these pit organs are membranes with highly-sensitive temperature receptors, giving them a detailed and accurate mapping of another animal’s thermal points on their body.
Do Reptiles Have Binocular Vision?
Most reptiles have eyes positioned laterally on their heads, resulting in mostly monocular vision, but there are reptiles – mainly snakes and chameleons – which possess both monocular and binocular vision.
Binocular vision essentially means both of your eyes can concentrate on a given object or animal, allowing you to perceive both the shape and the depth so you can view things in 3D. Humans have binocular vision, but the clarity of our monocular vision (viewing objects out of the ‘corner’ of our eye) is incredibly limited compared to a chameleon’s eye structure, which can easily switch between the two.
Can Reptiles See in the Dark?
Yes, a few reptiles can see very well in the dark as we’ve mentioned with nocturnal geckos. Nocturnal lizards can essentially view their surroundings in the dark as well as humans can in broad daylight. This is due to the light-sensitive cells within their retina but in some cases, it can also be down to the expanding and retracting ability of their vertical pupils that help them see the night clearly.
How Far Can a Lizard See?
The majority of lizard species can see fairly well up close and at a distance of objects are moving. However their vision was built better for close-up clarity than distance, so unless their prey or predator is on the move, most lizards will not be able to see still objects beyond a few feet away.
What Colors Can Reptiles See?
Most reptiles can see the entire rainbow of colors in a way that we can’t! This is because many reptile species, mainly lizards, possess ‘tetrachromatic’ vision which means they have 4 cones within their retinas compared to 3 in humans (which allows us to see variations of red, blue, and green). This fourth cone allows lizards to view all the colors in the Ultraviolet spectrum too!
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