Can cats really see in the dark, or is that an urban legend?
Cats have always held a certain level of honor or mysticism in the world. From holding a place of honor in ancient Egypt to a bizarre association with witchcraft and evil, the close to nocturnal tendencies of cats have led many to believe they can see in the dark. Though science and superstition don’t always see eye-to-eye (forgive the pun), a cat’s vision is a natural wonder that encompasses more than one sense.
Cats have been a part of humanity for centuries. While our feline companions have become a mainstay in our homes for many decades, the answer to whether a cat can see in the dark can get complicated. In short, they can, but not as well as you’d like to think.
Some Feline Science and How Cats’ Eyes Work
Your cat’s eyes work similar to yours. The pupil gets smaller in bright light and dilates in darker surroundings. A cat’s vertical pupils can dilate up to 300 times more in low light than yours, which is only a measly 15 times. This also happens when they are playful or stimulated. On the downside, their vision does appear a little blurrier with this dilation.
As light enters a cat’s eyes, it goes back to the retina. This layer is a light-sensitive lining at the back of your cat’s eye. Unlike your human eye, a cat has what is called a tapetum. This is a particular reflective layer that acts as a mirror.
The tapetum will reflect light onto another spot of the retina. If you ever shone a light at your cat and their eyes like they’re glowing, it is because the tapetum is reflecting some of this light. This may also be why many thought cats were associated with witchcraft. Because of this reflected light, a small amount of it will be magnified. Any light available to your cat at night will be enlarged inside their eyes. This allows your cat to see things.
This doesn’t necessarily mean they can see in total darkness. All it means is that they can use up to 50 percent more of any available light source than humans can. This makes them better navigating extremely dark places better than their human counterparts. Also, as a note, their vision is 200 degrees wider than yours.
The Shape of a Cat's Eye and Vision
The fashionable nature of a cat's pupil is far from being just an aesthetic choice by Mother Nature. This beautiful design has immense light control in bright daylight and near-darkness. It's this style of pupil that is found on many predators that hunt throughout the day and ambush their prey. These pupils also help a cat estimate distance and help process the best image, which is called 'steropsis.' This is especially helpful if a cat is on the prowl at night or hiding in the shadows during the day. As they pounce on their prey, their eyes allow them to be more precise in their actions.
Whiskers and the Power of Feeling
How a cat navigates, the dark is more than just eyesight. As if our feline companions weren't supernatural enough, their whiskers also help guide a cat in the dark. Since these whiskers are connected to nerves that are sensitive to even the slightest movement, a cat can move more freely at night. They can also detect a slight breeze. If you've ever noticed a cat walking forward, have their whiskers pointing out and forward. This allows the whiskers to brush against an object. This will alert the cat that something there. This helps a cat walk through a room at night while avoided a floor littered with toys or to keep them from running into the furniture.
So, can cats see in the dark? With your mystical feline friend, there is more than meets the eyes quite literally, in fact. Though a cat's eyes are a marvel of evolution and an ongoing fascination in science and many spiritual movements, how they see in a world of darkness is more complicated. Cat's rely on more than their eyesight when navigating a dark room or tall grass at night. While many will argue on whether a cat is a supernatural being, everyone will agree that cats are a marvel of curiosity that must be cherished.
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