While humans have adapted to eye problems by means of glasses and eye care, we aren’t the only ones that have succeeded in developing interesting ways to beat natural selection. Nature is full of interesting creatures that flourished in their habitats due to some sort of visual prowess. However, for every creature that has succeeded because of their eyes, there are also many that have failed because of a lack of eyesight.
The world is full of harsh terrains and the desert may well be the harshest. With so many potential eye threats present like sand and constant sunlight, it would be helpful to have a pair goggles. Animals don’t exactly have access to goggles but there are some mammals, such as camels, that have a solid substitution. Camels have an extra protective eyelid that acts as a nictitating membrane, covering up both their eyes in order to easily maneuver through the unrelenting wastelands of the desert. This third eyelid, as it is often referred to, helps stop the camel from getting debris stuck within its eyes and offers some sun protection. However, this third eyelid isn’t only meant for the heat.
On the coldest parts of earth, another animal uses it for a different purpose. Polar bears living on the north and south poles have a similar nictitating membrane that they use for several different reasons. The brutally cold winds of the North Pole and constant swimming through salt water can cause extreme irritation to polar bears, but thanks to the nictitating membrane they are safe from these potential harms. Both of these animals have thrived in extreme temperatures for thousands of years.
Snakes dominate in these areas because of their special eyes equipped with infrared (IR) vision.
Sometimes, visual prowess isn’t all about protection and defense. In the case of several predators within the animal kingdom, it’s all about the offensive. Most animals use their eyes when it comes to stalking and hunting prey, however there are some that take it a few steps further. There comes a point where regular eyes are no longer enough, especially in places like jungles and forests where it’s easier for smaller prey to camouflage. While many hunters might be left with a harder time finding food, there are some whose visual advantage helps them slither their way to the top of the food chain. Snakes dominate in these areas because of their special eyes equipped with infrared (IR) vision. IR vision allows animals to see other animals within a spectrum of body heat. Because of this, animals that hide by means of camouflage are left completely visible and vulnerable. Snakes then have a much easier time catching these animals. As easy as it may already seem for these snakes to hunt, the true power of infrared vision is witnessed at night when everything is pitch black and other animals can no longer see as well as in the daylight. On top being able to see prey more easily, one of the most impressive aspects of infrared hunting is that the snakes can pinpoint the best spot to bite its prey by paying attention to where its organs are, resulting in a clean kill.
Animals come with a wide range of hidden tricks for surviving out in the wild. In some cases the animal may use its eyes as a weapon. In the same way that some humans are afraid of blood, so are some of the members of the animal kingdom. The horned lizard isn’t a very fast or strong reptile, but it does manage to get by thanks to its amazing eyes. Whenever a bigger animal is coming to attack, the horned lizard fires off a shot of blood from its eyes in order to subdue it before it can do any damage. The lizard then hurries off as the predator is blinded by its thick blood.
Nature is a great reminder of how important our eyes are and why we need to take care of them. Like in nature, having a better set of eyes can give you a competitive advantage that will help us succeed.
- Arabian Camel (Dromedary). (n.d.). Retrieved from National Geographic: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/a/arabian-camel/
- Fang, J. (2010, March 14). Snake infrared detection unravelled. Retrieved from Nature News: http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100314/full/news.2010.122.html
- Polar Bear. (n.d.). Retrieved from Utah’s Hogle Zoo: https://www.hoglezoo.org/meet_our_animals/animal_finder/polar_bear/
- Short-Horned Lizard. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Geographic: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/s/short-horned-lizard/