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Extraordinary Eyes

Meet animals that have a superpowered sense of sight 

What if you could see in the dark? For some animals, abilities like this are part of life.

Animals use sight to hunt prey, avoid predators, and communicate. Their eyes work in the same basic way as human eyes do. Special cells in the eye collect light from the environment. These cells send signals to the brain, which creates the images we see.

The structure of an animal’s eyes affects how it views the world. So does the number of eyes that it has and where they are placed. 

Read on to meet four animals with unique adaptations for vision. Their eyes let them see things no human could.

Owls: Light Collectors

Human eyes are built to see in daylight. After dark, it’s hard to make out our surroundings. Owls don’t have this problem. They hunt at night. So their eyes are adapted to soak up a lot of light. This gives them vision clear enough to spot prey even in the dim light of the moon and stars.

Owls’ eyes are enormous—much larger compared with their body size than those of many other animals. When it’s dark out, holes called pupils expand to cover the front of the owls’ eyes. The extra-large openings let in a lot of light. Where a human sees a dark forest, an owl sees a scene that’s nearly three times as bright!

Praying Mantises: Seeing All Sides

What if you could see in front of you and behind you at the same time? A praying mantis can! The insect’s head can rotate 180 degrees to view its surroundings and potential prey. Two bulging eyes sit on its swiveling head. In between these big eyes are three much smaller, simpler eyes.

Spiders: Night Vision

Not all spiders have the same number of eyes. Most species of spider have eight eyes. But some spiders have two, four, six, or even zero eyes!

Most spiders have poor eyesight. They rely on other senses—touch, taste, and feel—to hunt prey. But their eyes are well adapted for the dark. They can even sense small changes in light and dark. 

Horseshoe Crabs: Eyes All Over

Horseshoe crabs have been around for millions of years. They’re called living fossils because they haven’t changed much over that time. Horseshoe crabs have eyes all over their bodies, including one on their telsons (tail-like body segments)!

The crab’s two compound eyes are the largest. Compound means the eyes are made up of many tiny lenses. Through these eyes, the horseshoe crab sees multiple images instead of just one. Compound eyes help horseshoe crabs find mates. 

The crab’s other eyes are much smaller. They help the crab sense light and dark, especially when swimming.

Continue the Learning Journey
Secrets of Sight

Watch a video about how the human eye functions.

After watching the video, place yourself in front of a mirror and look at your own eyes. Can you see the different parts, like the cornea and pupil, that you learned about in the video? Now make a drawing of your eyes! If you can, use colored pencils or crayons to add color. And don’t forget to label all the different eye parts. Finally, show your drawing to a family member and share what you’ve learned with them!

Create a Comic Strip

Turn your story into an action-packed comic strip.

Think about which animal adaptation from the article you find most interesting and why. Then imagine you are that animal! Tell a day in its life in a comic strip. Make sure you focus on the animal’s eyes in your story. What makes the eyes special? What do they see? How do they move? Learn how to create a comic with the slideshow above. When you’re done, share your comic strip with a friend. Were they able to determine your animal’s adaptation?

This article was written by Mara Grunbaum & Dani Leviss for DynaMath magazine.

Image Credits: Lucas Bustamante/ (owl eye); Michael Quinton/Minden Pictures (owls); Paul Starosta/Getty Images (praying mantis); Sebastian Janicki/ (spiders); iStockPhoto/Getty Images (Horseshoe Crab); Ingo Arndt/NPL/Minden Pictures (Compound Eye)