6 Animals With the Best Long Distance Vision (With Videos)

Animals with the Best Long Distance Vision
Fact Checked and Reviewed by: Mark Rhodes, Ph.D. - Wildlife Biologist
Dr. Mark Rhodes holds an MS in Fisheries and Wildlife along with a Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology. He helps maintain our editorial standards of accuracy and quality. You can read more about Dr. Rhodes here.

There are a lot of critters in the animal kingdom with features that set them apart from other species. In addition to being fascinating, these features change from animal to animal depending on what the animal needs to find food, protect itself from predators, and essentially survive in the wild.

There are some animals that rely on their ability to hear or smell because their vision isn’t so great. However, that’s the exact opposite of the animals that you’ll find on this list.

So, what are animals with the best long distance vision?

Animals with the best long distance vision include birds of prey like eagles, falcons, and hawks during the day and owls at night. Cheetahs, sharks, chameleons, and dragonflies also have excellent vision. They rely on their ability to see to hunt prey, spot predators in the distance, and in some cases, find a mate. 

Below, we’ll take a closer look at these animals with fantastic vision, including how their vision compares to a human’s and what features make their long distance vision so great.

1. Eagles, Hawks, and Falcons

Birds of prey, like the eagle, are known for having an incredibly sharp vision. This is necessary for spotting mice, rabbits, and other prey hiding in bushes and under leaves. Without this type of vision, eagles would have a hard time finding something to eat.

Compared to a human, the vision of eagles, hawks, and falcons is about 4-5 times better. For example, a human would be able to see a candle flame at a distance of 2 miles if they had perfect vision. Birds of prey, on the other hand, can see a rabbit trying to blend into the brush from 2-3 miles away. 

Not only can they see a camouflaged animal, but after seeing this animal, eagles can zoom in on their prey. They can see a wider range of colors, which helps with picking out hiding animals that are camouflaged from other people and animals.

2. Owls

While birds of prey have great vision during the day, it’s nighttime when owls are at the top of their game. Like hawks, eagles, and falcons, owls have excellent vision because it’s required for them to hunt their prey.

Owls cannot see well during the day. At night, however, they can make out small mice and rodents scampering across leaves on the forest floor. One of the reasons for this is the extra rods that an owl has in its eyes compared to a human’s, making them more sensitive to light.

Another reason owls have laser-sharp vision is that they cannot move their eyes side-to-side or roll them as humans can. This gives them a kind of binocular-like vision where they can hyperfocus on their target.

Finally, owls have a reflective layer behind their retina. This captures light and reflects it back out, making the nighttime world around them appear brighter.

Many other animals with nighttime vision also have this reflective layer, as do ocean animals that see at deep depths. However, they do not all have the same binocular vision, wide eyes, and ability to focus as the owl. That being said, there are some other animals with fantastic nighttime vision like lemurs and loris.

3. Cheetahs

Like other daytime predators, cheetahs rely on their excellent vision to help them while they’re on the hunt. Cheetahs can see approximately 3 miles away.

Like owls, cheetahs also have binocular vision that lets them focus and “lock in” on their prey. They also have tear lines around their eyes, which work to absorb some of the sun’s rays and keep their vision good even in the hot sun of their usual environment.

Interestingly, even though cats are known for having good low-light vision, cheetahs cannot see well at night. However, they do have more photoreceptors in their eyes than other felines, which is why their vision is so sharp. This isn’t a big deal for the cheetah since it does its hunting during the day.

4. Sharks

From the land to the water, it’s believed that sharks have some of the best long distance vision underwater. Sharks can see an estimated 30-50 feet, though this really depends on the shark and the quality of the water in its living environment. In Hawaii, some sharks that were tested saw up to 90 feet through the water.

That being said, sharks can see a lot better than the average human underwater. People’s eyes are not adapted to underwater vision. While you can tolerate having your eyes open, odds are everything underwater is blurry and out of focus because people’s eyes are designed for seeing on dry land.

Another advantage sharks have is that they can see far distances when they go down into the darker parts of the water, too. They have the same layer of mirrored material that owls have in their eyes, which reflects light and makes vision clearer even in the dark.

5. Dragonflies

If you’ve ever gotten close to a dragonfly, chances are it makes sense why they’d have such good vision. They have compound eyes like most insects, but they also have 28,000 lenses in each compound eye.

Even though compound eyes aren’t believed to be as high resolution as those of the typical vertebrate, dragonflies have some of the best long distance vision of animals with compound eyes because of all those lenses. They use their ability to find mates and small insects that they prey on.

In addition to seeing well, dragonflies can pick up movement in their area and they see 360 degrees because of the position of their eyes. Some researchers even believe dragonflies may see color.

6. Chameleons

While chameleons are known for their ability to shift color when they’re trying to hide, they have a number of other cool features as well- including their eyes.

Chameleon eyes are big and move independently of one another. Unlike dragonfly eyes that work together to create one picture, chameleons can see from both eyes at once. They can even see with their eyes closed because of a tiny hole in their eyelid.

Researchers believe that chameleons can see up to 32 feet away without needing to focus their vision. Once it spots predator or prey, the chameleon turns its head and shifts to binocular vision so it can lock onto it.

As an added benefit, chameleons have 360-degree vision without having to move their head. Their ability to see predators from far off and camouflage themselves is really handy for survival.

Do Some Animals With the Best Long Distance Vision See Better Than People?

Yes, there are some animals (like several of those on this list) that see better than people. This is especially true when you consider that some people don’t have 20/20 (perfect) vision and require glasses or contacts to see clearly.

You see, when animals cannot see well, they often don’t survive as long in the wild. Additionally, they’re less likely to reproduce because many species are driven to reproduce with the strongest mates to produce the best possible offspring. This means that genes that cause bad eyesight get eliminated over time.

That isn’t to say there aren’t animals with bad eyesight. In fact, many animals have bad eyesight or are totally blind. The difference is that these animals aren’t the only ones with bad eyesight- the rest of their species does too. Often, their other senses have adapted to give them an evolutionary edge as well.

How Is an Animal’s Long Distance Vision Tested?

Testing an animal’s vision isn’t really the same as testing a person’s vision. They can’t relay back what they are seeing on a vision chart or tell you when they see a small, flashing dot in their peripheral vision. So, to test animal vision, scientists have to adapt testing to their specific species.

In the case of animals that can be trained, researchers can teach the animal to respond to a certain visual cue. For example, they might train a falcon by giving it a treat when it notices a yellow ball. Then, they move the ball farther and farther back, noting when the falcon no longer has it in its field of vision.

In the case of animals who cannot be trained, researchers might study them for a long time and note things like when they notice another animal, a person, or food from a certain distance to gauge how good their eyesight is.

Which Animal Can See the Farthest?

According to all the research, the animals that can see the farthest are birds of prey, with eagles topping the list. Their ability to see far is necessary for spotting tiny prey hiding on the edge of the woods and forestry. Cheetahs can also see far distances during the day, which is also driven by their need to see prey to hunt.

While birds of prey see the best during the day, it’s owls that have excellent vision at night. They are more sensitive to light than humans and have binocular-like vision because they can’t move their eyes.

Finally, it is believed that sharks have the best long-distance vision underwater. Sharks are also adapted to seeing in daylight and darker conditions.

Final Word

Some of the animals with the best long distance vision include birds of prey, owls, cheetahs, sharks, dragonflies, and chameleons. Many of these animals rely on their ability to see for hunting or avoiding prey. Dragonflies also rely on their vision for mating.

Animal vision is often adapted to things like their natural habitat and their needs for survival. Some animals (like these) rely on their vision for survival, while other animals have better hearing or a strong sense of smell to make up for their inability to see well.

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