Jeepers, Peepers

By | September 1, 2015
From Xplor: September/October 2015

Different Places on Different Faces

Where an animal’s eyes are located on its head determines how much of its surroundings the animal can see.

If pesky predators come calling, bitterns point their beaks skyward, hoping to look like a cattail. Yet even with its bill raised, a bittern can still see frontward thanks to its downward-facing eyes.

Nature is full of VIPs — very impressive peepers.

Let’s take a peek at a few animals and see what eye-opening things we can learn about them by focusing on their vision.

  • A beaver’s eyes are located near the top of its furry, buck-toothed head. When the water-loving rodent slips its nose above the surface to catch a breath, it can also catch a peek at its surroundings.
  • Thanks to eyes that stick out from the sides of its head, a cottontail sitting on a pitcher’s mound could see home plate and every base — all without turning around. This wide field of view helps rabbits spot predators approaching from any direction.
  • Owls, like many meat eaters, have eyes that face forward. By comparing two images seen from slightly different angles, the owl can use its “binocular vision” to judge distances. This comes in handy when swooping down to snatch prey.
  • A shrew would need thick glasses to see as well as a human. The tiny eyes on these tiny mammals are nearly useless. But that’s OK. Shrews use touch and smell to move around and find food. The huge eyes on a flying squirrel gather lots of light. This helps the squirrelly skydivers see well at night and swoop safely around branches as they glide from tree to tree.

Eye-dentify Yourself!

Nonvenomous snakes, such as this gartersnake, have round pupils, like a human’s eyes.

All of the Show-Me State’s venomous snakes, such as this copperhead, have vertical pupils, like a cat’s eyes.

Night Sight, Slight Sight

Many nocturnal animals can see well in the dark. Others, not so much.

Mighty Sight-y

You’re probably familiar with animals that have two eyes. But many animals have more. Some even have different kinds of eyes.

  • Many spiders have poor vision, but not jumping spiders. They use their eight simple eyes to spot predators and judge distances when pouncing on prey.
  • The two huge, compound eyes on a dragonfly are each covered with 30,000 “mini eyes.” This helps the insect see in nearly all directions at once. Three small simple eyes help the dragonfly sense which way its body is turned while flying.


And More...

This Issue's Staff

Brett Dufur
Les Fortenberry
Karen Hudson
Regina Knauer
Angie Daly Morfeld
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White