How Do Snakes See?


When it comes to snakes one of the first things that usually comes to mind is how they see. Do they have eyes as we do? Can they see in the dark? Can they see color?

Here’s a look at some of the most common questions about snake vision and what science has to say about it.

Do Snakes Have Eyes?

Yes snakes have eyes. In fact they have two of them. But they’re not like our eyes.

For starters snake eyes are much smaller in proportion to their head than our eyes are. And they’re located on the sides of their head which gives them a very different field of vision than we have.

Another big difference is that snakes don’t have eyelids. Instead they have a clear layer of skin (called the spectacle) that protects their eyes.

So how do snakes see?

Since they don’t have eyelids snakes can’t blink. But they can still see. In fact some snakes have very good vision.

There are two main ways that snakes see: by sensing light with their eyes and by sensing vibrations with their skin.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Sensing Light With Their Eyes

All snakes have what’s called a “pinhole pupil.” This is a tiny hole in the center of the eye that allows light to pass through.

When there’s not much light the pupil gets bigger to let in more light. In bright light the pupil gets smaller to protect the snake’s eyes from the glare.

Some snakes like the boa constrictor have pupils that open and close vertically. Others like the cobra have pupils that open and close horizontally.

But all snakes have one thing in common: their pupils don’t get bigger and smaller like ours do. So how do they see in the dark?

It turns out that snakes can see in the dark because they have a special layer of cells in their eyes that sense light. This layer is called the tapetum lucidum.

The tapetum lucidum reflects light back into the eye which gives the snake a second chance to see it. This is why snakes’ eyes often look shiny in the dark.

Sensing Vibrations With Their Skin

In addition to their eyes snakes also have a special sense organ in their skin called the pit organ.

The pit organ is a small cup-shaped depression that’s filled with a clear liquid. It’s located between the eye and the nostril on each side of the head.

The pit organ is sensitive to heat and vibration. So when an animal like a mouse or a rat walks by the snake can sense the vibrations through the ground and the air.

This helps the snake to find prey even in the dark.

Do Snakes See Color?

Now that we know how snakes see let’s talk about color.

Do Snakes See Color?

The short answer is yes snakes can see color. But they don’t see it the way we do.

Our eyes have three types of color-sensitive cells: red green and blue. This gives us the ability to see a wide range of colors.

Snakes on the other hand have only two types of color-sensitive cells: red and green. This means that they can see some colors but not all of them.

For example a snake might be able to see the colors red orange yellow and green. But they wouldn’t be able to see the colors blue purple and pink.

How Do Snakes Use Their Vision?

Now that we know how snakes see you might be wondering how they use their vision.

It turns out that snakes use their vision for a variety of different things.

For example they use their eyes to help them find food and avoid predators. They also use their eyes to communicate with other snakes.

Some snakes like the pit vipers use their vision to help them hunt. These snakes have heat-sensitive pits on their faces that help them to locate warm-blooded prey even in the dark.

Do All Snakes Have The Same Vision?

No all snakes do not have the same vision. In fact there’s a lot of variation among snakes.

Some snakes like the boa constrictor have very good vision. Others like the blind snake have very poor vision.

And some snakes like the pit vipers have special adaptations that allow them to see in the dark or sense heat.