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What Animals May See

Some thoughts on Visual Perception - Created by Alexis Booth

Though we might like to think that animals see the world with the same vivid colors and definition as human beings, perhaps just from different angles and perspectives, the truth is that vision differs greatly among animal species. 

Animals process visual information in distinct ways, largely a direct result of the specifics of their visual equipment. An animal's eyel and the arrangement of its various structures determine the basis of its visual world.  Although all vertebrates utilize an eye that takes in images by focusing on an object in a camera-like manner, many have different eye shapes, and some do not possess all of the same structures (such as cones, which distinguish colors).  Of course, some animals have receptors that pick up visual stimuli that humans cannot perceive; birds, for example, can see ultraviolet light, and as a result observe a variety of visual patterns which humans can only view through the use of additional external filters.

Basic visual capabilities are not all that matter when considering animal vision.  Though the raw information is important in that it provides a basis for any further brain processing, once a picture is formed it moves on to the rest of the brain and is compiled with all the other sensory information that an animal has taken in.  The end product is a perceived view of the surrounding world, otherwise known as an ümvelt.

Here are a few visions of how animals might see the world based on what we know about their visual systems.

Prairie Dogs

Though humans can see the entire visible light spectrum and would be able to appreciate the rich greens of the grass in the meadow on the left, prairie dogs and squirrels are red/green color blind, and only perceive the blues, yellows, and greys of the landscape.


Sharks do not possess the same photoreceptors as humans. They have few retinal cones, and as a result, most have no or limited color vision.  They have much larger rod receptors (which pick up light), with fewer numbers of them, so their vision is perhaps more sensitive, but less acute, than ours.


  See NOVA's Shark Attack! page: an interactive lesson in how sharks use their sophisticated sensory system to hunt prey

  Visit Ocearch Global Shark Tracker to see real time movements of Great White Sharks around the world


Sea Turtles have a special feature which perhaps evolved to help them see on the dark sea floor; their individual photoreceptors contain red oil droplets which obstruct shorter light wavelengths.  As a result, they can easily pick up reds and oranges and yellows, but cannot really perceive any of the longer light wavelengths such as green or blue or violet.


  Visit Andrew Giger's unique B-EYE site. See the world from a bee's perspective!


All pictures were scanned from Sandra Sinclair's book How Animals See: Other Visions of Our World
Facts on File Publications, New York, © 1985