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How a snakes ability to see better than you think makes them deadly hunters

Snake eyes



How snakes see is often misunderstood. For instance it is a misconception that snakes are almost blind. While their vision isn’t as acute as a persons they have other tools that work in harmony with sight to give them a very robust image of the world around them. Their hearing, despite a lack of external ears, is superb. They have an excellent sense of smell, so acute that it allows them to track the exact direction their prey is going turn by turn. In addition there some snakes, the most infamous of which are the pit vipers, that have a special infrared vision.

Here are some interesting tidbits of information about a snakes vision.

  • Snakes have cones in their retinas; cones is what allows us to perceive color. It is the same for them, but not as vivid nor wide a range. Think in terms of hues and shades
  • They have trouble seeing things that aren’t moving. That’s where other senses such as smell (flicking of the tongue), and heat signature (in the snakes equipped by nature for it) come into play
  • A snake is very near sighted
  • Vertical pupils on a common red tail boa. Not venomous
    It is NOT true that you can tell a venomous snake by the shape of its pupils
  • Many animals were created with a special oil drop that surrounds the cones of the eyes to protect them from ultraviolet light. Snakes instead rely on a filter over the lens of their eyes that can not be penetrated by the uv wave length
  • A snake has eyes with a telescoping lens. They can move the lens itself forward and backward (in and out) with muscle contraction/relaxation
  • A snake has no eye lids. They have a clear scale over each eye that comes off when they shed their skin
  • In general snakes can see better at night because their rods are more highly developed than the cones. Which is the opposite of you and I. The cones in our eyes are better developed and that allows us to see colors in much more vivid tones
  • One sign a snake is going to shed is its eyes become opaque about 5 to 7 days before it happens
  • Sometimes a shedding snake will not shed the scale on its eyes. This is often a sign that the humidity is too low
  • http://www.animalmate.com Trond

    Hi! Awsome article about snakes and how they see.
    I would really like to read more about this!
    I’m currently writing about reptiles on my website and stumbled over this article through a search on “Most popular snakes” -> in Google.

    Looking forward to read more of this quality articles!
    Best regards,
    Trond
    v/ Animalmate.com

  • cowboy

    Has anyone developed glasses or some-other device that can deduct a nearby snake that is normally camouflaged in its environment? Would infra red devices detect a snake by noting the heat emanating from it? This is all in the realm of trying not to step on a viper! Otherwise the snakes are not really interested in us.

  • Fabio

    The point about snakes not being able to move their eyes is not strictly true – at least not for all species – I have empirically observed my corn snakes moving their pupils forward indicating some forward rotational ability of the eye in the horizontal plane at the very least.

  • Emily

    Well, snakes are “cold blooded” which actually means that they regulate their temperature with their environment. Typically, they are the same temperature as whatever is around them, so they would be fairly invisible to an infrared sensor, unless they were just warming up in the morning and were still cold compared to the rocks they are basking on, or if they had finished heating up in the sun and moved into a cooler shady area. But they would only be visible until their temperature equalized with the environment.

    It’s possible they would stand out in the ultraviolet spectrum– many things that refract similar amounts of light in the visible spectrum give off very different amounts of light in the ultraviolet. But I’ve never turned an ultraviolet camera on a snake before, so I don’t know how well it would work.

  • Ruru

    Yeah, I have a children’s python, and I’ve seen her move her eyes. After reading this article I thought I might be mistaken, so I watched her carefully, and sure enough she moved her pupils as she looked around. I’ve also talked to others who said their ball pythons and other snakes moved their eyes. I think the writer of this article must be mistaken.

  • Kalessg

    Hm, I see yall are thinking that snakes can not move their eyes. The article was refering that snakes cannot move their eyes left to right or Peripheral vision… BUT, they can move their eyes forward and backward like a telescope to see closer and further. Soo, that is probably what you guys are thinking when you see your snake’s eyes move. Plus I think that it would be a little to tough to actually determine what the snake is actually looking at only being an owner, with no specialty.

  • http://pet-snakes.com Pet Snakes

    You are correct and it was a mistake on my part. I published a draft version that was meant to say they can’t move their eyelids once and for some reason it said it twice and I changed the redundancy from eyelids to eyes.

    Snakes can infact, move their eyeballs.

  • http://pet-snakes.com Pet Snakes

    You are correct and it was a mistake on my part. I published a draft version that was meant to say they can’t move their eyelids once and for some reason it said it twice and I changed the redundancy from eyelids to eyes.

    Snakes can infact, move their eyeballs.

  • http://pet-snakes.com Pet Snakes

    Yes snakes can move their eyes. They can’t move their eyelids. The wrong draft was published.

  • http://pet-snakes.com Pet Snakes

    Yes snakes can move their eyes. They can’t move their eyelids. The wrong draft was published.

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