How Do Animals See The World? Seeing through one eye or many, in technicolour or black and white, few animals experience the world as we do.
By analysing the properties of animals’ visual systems, we can model what the world would look like through their eyes.
The images below each show a scene as viewed by a human. Drag the slider to the left to see how an animal would see the same scene.
How a human sees a park with red and cream flowers, green grass and a red ballA scientific representation of how a dog would see the same scene – the red objects look more grey and no longer stand out
Whereas human eyes contain three types of colour-detecting cells, called cones, dogs have just two. Their cone cells are specialised for picking up yellow and blue-to-ultraviolet light.
Each cone type contains a pigment sensitive to particular wavelengths of light. The range of colours an animal sees depends on the combination of colour-sensitive pigments in their eye and the processing by the brain.
With fewer cone types, dogs can’t distinguish between as many colours as we can.
How a human sees a cricket and flowers in dim lightA scientific representation of how a nocturnal gecko would see the same scene – far more colourful and more sharply defined
Humans don’t see colours very well, or even at all, in low light. This is because our cone cells function best in relatively bright light.
Other cells in our eyes, called rod cells, help us see in dim light. But because rod cells only have a single light-sensitive pigment, at night we see in shades of grey.
Geckos, on the other hand, have excellent colour vision at night – a useful advantage for a nocturnal hunter. Their eyes have evolved to be up to 350 times more sensitive to colour at night than ours.