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15 Animals That Can See in the Dark (With Pictures)

Humans don’t like the dark, and we’ve come up with all sorts of ways to avoid it. Mostly that involves artificial lighting, like lamps, streetlights, and flashlights. But we’ve also got night-vision devices that use infrared light to help us see in the dark.

In the animal kingdom, a surprising number of species are nocturnal, which means they need to be able to see in the dark. There are many reasons why an animal might be nocturnal, but mostly it’s either to avoid predators or to find prey that’s more active after dark. Here are some great examples of animals that can see in the dark.

15 Animals That Can See In The Dark

1. Owls

great gray owl

Owls rule the night skies. They’re remarkably well adapted to nocturnal hunting. Their feathers are even designed to allow them to fly in complete silence. Seeing a wild owl in it’s natural habitat is spooky, like seeing a ghost.

Because they hunt by flying around at night, they need superb night vision. Otherwise they’d seriously injure themselves flying into trees. Their eyes are huge to collect as much light as possible. What many people don’t know is that they also have excellent hearing, which helps them locate their prey in the dark. Many owls actually sit still until they hear their prey, and only take flight then.

2. Bats

image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Most bats have a unique adaptation to life in the dark: echolocation. They use sound to see the world. By emitting a series of short, high-frequency sounds and listening for them to bounce back, bats can form a clear mental picture of their surroundings.

However, not all bats have this ability. Most fruit bats can’t echolocate, and instead rely on excellent night vision. These bats, like owls, have big eyes that collect as much light as possible to allow them to see in the dark.

3. Alligators

Alligators are nocturnal, too. In fact, if you’ve ever watched documentaries about them you’ve seen researchers going out at not to find them by “spotlighting,” shining a bright light out over the water and finding the alligators by the way their eyes reflect the light.

That’s actually a characteristic of most nocturnal animals. They’re eyes have a highly reflective layer in them that maximizes the amount of light the eye can collect and enables them to see in the dark.

4. Sharks

image by ume-y via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The majority of sharks are nocturnal, or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk). These are the prime hunting hours in the ocean, so naturally that’s when the ocean’s top predators are most active. It also means that’s the worst time to go for a swim at the beach!

Since they’re so active at night, almost all sharks have excellent vision in the dark. Sharks are very visual predators, but that’s not their only sense. In addition to an acute sense of smell, sharks also have the ability to sense electric fields.

5. Domestic cats

Anyone who’s had a cat knows just how active they can be at night. Cats are naturally nocturnal, although many domestic cats actually adjust to their owners schedule and end up sleeping through the night.

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Cats have some of the best night vision in the world, and not many other animals can compete with their eye sight in the dark. Their pupils can open incredibly wide to collect a lot of light, and their eyes are perfectly designed to see in in the dark. In fact, they may even have color vision in the dark.

6. Tarsiers

These tiny Asian primates are famous for their massive eyes, which take up most of their head. They’re the world’s only primates that are exclusively carnivorous. Their favorite foods are usually insects, but they’ll also eat lizards, snakes, and even small birds.

Since most of their prey is active at night, so are they. Their huge eyes let them see with perfect clarity in the dark rainforest nights.

7. Dung Beetles

dung beetle

This is one probably surprising, but dung beetles have excellent night vision. Dung beetles are a large group of many different species living all over the globe. While African dung beetles are most famous, because they tend to feature on nature documentaries, you probably have dung beetles living in your backyard.

Like many insects, dung beetles are most active at night. Since they fly to find their next meal, they need excellent night vision to stay safe. In fact, dung beetles may have some of the best night vision in the animal kingdom.

8. Cockroach

Yes, unfortunately, we’re going to talk about cockroaches. Nobody likes them and they’re almost impossible to get rid of, and their incredible night vision might be why. Cockroaches have some of the most sensitive light receptors in the world, which means they can see in lower light levels than almost anything else.

Their vision may not be as sharp as other species, but it enables them to live in places that get almost no light at all, which means they can hide from predators (and exterminators) better than anything else.

9. Moths

You can think of moths as the nighttime version of butterflies. They’re closely related and indeed one of the biggest differences between moths and butterflies is that moths tend to be well adapted to the night life.

In fact, some moths even have color vision, and were the first animals to be confirmed to see in color in the dark.

10. Raccoons

image: Rks117 | Wikimedia Commons | CC 3.0

This should come as no surprise. Raccoons are hardly seen during the day, after all, but at night they’re all over the place. Raccoons are incredibly opportunistic creatures that have adapted to human presence very well.

They have a strong sense of smell, but they’re eyesight in the dark is quite good, too. It enables them to find food, but also to avoid predators, many of which have excellent night vision, too.

11. Foxes

Image: Pixabay.com

Most canids (wolves, coyotes, dogs, etc) are diurnal, meaning they prefer to be active during the day. As a result, while they’re night vision is usually better than ours, it’s not nearly as good as a cat’s.

Foxes are a bit different, though. For one thing, they’re small enough that they’re prey for predators like eagles, hawks, and coyotes. So being nocturnal is a good survival strategy. In addition, most of their favorite foods, like insects and small rodents, are easier to find at night. So, foxes actually have very good night vision.

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12. Mountain Lions

Image: USFWS Mountain-Prairie | CC BY 2.0 | flickr

These big cats prefer to hunt after dark. Like your tabby cat, they have incredible night vision. They can see in the dark just as well as we can in the daylight. All cats have excellent night vision, but few have the predatory skills of the mountain lion.

Most predators are only successful 1 out of every 10 hunts. It’s estimated that mountain lions make a kill on about 8 out of every 10 hunts, and it’s easy to believe that they’re night vision is a major reason for that success.

13. Cuttlefish

image by Schristia via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

These relatives of squid and octopi are known for their incredible colors and suspected high intelligence. They also see in the dark just as well as they do during the day. In fact, so do squid and octopus.

All of these animals are active primarily after dark, when it’s easier for them to hunt, and so they all have large, highly effective eyes.

14. Pit Vipers

image by Patrick Alexander via Flickr

Pit vipers like rattlesnakes are named for the heat-sensing pits on their faces, which allows them to detect prey by it’s body heat. Because they have that unique sense, people often discount their vision.

But, in fact, most pit vipers have excellent vision. It’s a necessity, since not all of their prey is warm-blooded and therefore may be hard to detect using body heat alone. Pit vipers spend the day sunning themselves to keep their own body heat up, and then hunt at night. So they need good vision. If you’ve ever looked at their eyes, you’ll notice they look like a cat’s eye, and they function in much the same way.

15. Frogs

Frogs typically have big, bulging eyes. Those eyes happen to be great for night vision. Most frog species are nocturnal out of necessity. Too much time in the sun and their skin will dry out, which would be fatal.

So they come out at night to hunt for insects, snails, worms, and in some case mice, lizards and birds. For all of that they need top-quality night vision, and those big frog eyes give them just that.