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Foxes Eyes: What They Look Like & Their Eyesight

Foxes’ eyes are narrow, a slit, like cats. They have very good visual acuity at short-range, which they use to move quickly between obstacles while hunting or running.

Their eyes have also adapted to work both day and night, making them excellent nighttime predators.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into how foxes’ eyes work, how their vision changes depending on what time of day it is, how they use their eyesight, and how they see colors.

Foxes Eyes

Foxes have developed incredible eyes over thousands of years, resulting in great eyesight, both during the day and the night.

They’ve adapted so they can see in the dark for long periods of time, and more easily identify prey from predators, all while still remaining agile.

The shape of their eyes, and their wide field of view, also allow them to see almost all around them without having to move their head much. This is especially important when hunting, as well as when running from other predators. 

In addition, foxes are able to distinguish colors, but not very well, They’re essentially red-green colorblind, as they can only see blue and yellow colors.

closeup on fox eyes

While humans have much better attention to detail, as well as color detection, foxes (and other canines in general) are able to see much better than we are in low-light conditions and can pick up on movement better than humans.

This is due to foxes’ abundance of rod cells in their retina of the eye, whereas humans have more cone cells. The eyes of vertebrates contain two types of photoreceptive cells:

  1. Cone cells
  2. Rod cells

Cone cells are essentially responsible for detecting color. The better we can see color, the better we can distinguish between small details.

Related: Are foxes colorblind?

Rod cells are responsible for seeing in low-light situations, picking up on movement, and distinguishing between shades.

Foxes are also equipped with a “tapetum lucidum”, a reflective layer of tissue in their retina. This essentially sends light back through the eye, increasing the light exposure, resulting in better night vision.

Cat-Like Eyes: Vertically Slit Pupils

Foxes belong to the same family of carnivores as dogs (Canidae) but they have a unique set of eyes that sets them apart. 

The shape of foxes’ eyes is much like cats, vertically slit, instead of or horizontally.

Foxes have vertically-elongated pupils which are believed to help them see better. Vertically-slit pupils are mostly found in nocturnal predators. Hence, their pupils have evolved to improve their night vision even further. [1]

Vertical pupils improve foxes’ peripheral vision. A circular pupil would shade the peripheral zones, which can result in a loss of short-range focus.

Tim Malström and Ronald H. H. Kröger studied the differences between pupil shapes, resulting in the following:

“Animal eyes that are primarily used under low-light conditions usually have optical systems of short depth of focus, such that chromatic defocus may lead to considerable blurring of the images. In some vertebrates, the problem is solved by multifocal lenses having concentric zones of different focal lengths, each of which focuses a different relevant spectral range onto the retina.”

In other words, the pupils are shaped like this to improve their night vision and focus. [2]

Fox eye close up

Tapetum Lucidum

The tapetum lucidum is a layer in the eye that reflects light and makes it easier for an animal to see at night. 

Researchers found that when they looked at the tapetum of different animals there was a difference in how reflective it was. [3] 

For instance, foxes had three layers while cats only had two. This means that since foxes’ eyes are more reflective than cats’, this could be why their eyesight isn’t quite as sharp under normal lighting conditions.

fox eye side view

Field of View

Foxes have a wider field of view compared to humans and other canines. They are able to see 260-degrees around them. This enables them to quickly scan an area, as well as keep a lookout for predators or prey.

Foxes’ field of view is atypical for predators, who normally have a smaller field of view. This is because predators have greater use of being able to focus on their prey, and not scan for predators around them.

Foxes have binocular vision, which means that each eye sees an object from a slightly different angle. Their eyes then create a complete image by fusing the two separate images.

The field of vision of their two eyes overlaps about 40 degrees. This gives them better depth perception and allows them to judge distances more accurately. 

They do have a blind spot though behind their head as their eyes are situated in front of the head. The blind spot behind the head is roughly around 100 degrees.

fox eye wide view

Motion Detection

Foxes are great at detecting motion, partially due to their large amount of rod cells. Rod cells help foxes see better in dim light, which then helps them easily detect movement.

Because of the way their eyes are structured, their vision is based more on the movement of things rather than being able to focus on them. 

Red fox walking on foliage in autumn nature in detail.

What Kind of Eyes Do Foxes Have?

Foxes have atypical eyes for predators. This may be due to the fact that they’re smaller in size, meaning they’re also prey to larger predators.

Their vertically slit eyes stand out amongst other canines, and their field of view is much larger. Their eyes are similar to those of cats.

Red fox with mouse in mouth on glade in summer sunlight

Why Are Foxes Eyes Different?

The eyes of foxes have evolved differently from their fellow canids because they have adapted to different circumstances. 

Foxes are slightly more nocturnal of nature than wolves, meaning they need better vision in the dark. They’re also smaller, often hunted by larger predators. Hence, they need both short-range visual acuity (focus) and the ability to spot predators from afar.

close-up-of-red-fox-face

Do Fox Eyes Glow?

Foxes eyes don’t glow, even though it looks like it. This is merely an illusion caused by the tapetum lucidum. 

The tapetum lucidum is the reflective layer in their eyes, which enhances their vision in dim light.

When artificial light shines on foxes’ eyes, it’s reflected, causing the illusion of glowing eyes.

fox vision at night

Do Foxes Have Good Eyesight?

Foxes have good eyesight, both during the day and night. They have great night vision and have remarkable short-range visual acuity.

Visual acuity is defined as “a measure of the ability of the eye to distinguish shapes and the details of objects at a given distance”. [4]

Foxes are considered to have a myopic vision, meaning, they see great at shorter distances, while things from far away are blurry.

They can detect movement from afar, but also have the ability to focus on objects within a shorter range. They use the first as a way of finding prey, and spotting predators, while they use the second when running or hunting down prey.

Red Fox portrait

Do Foxes Have Night Vision?

Yes, foxes do have night vision. Foxes eyes are filled with an abundance of rod cells, which are used for vision in dim light. Foxes also have a reflective layer, the tapetum lucidum, which enhances light exposure.

This allows foxes to easily hunt at night, where their only source of light is the moon.

Related: Can Foxes See in the Dark?

How Do Foxes Navigate?

When moving about at night, foxes make use of their eyesight which is equipped for their nocturnal habits. 

They also make use of their sense of smell to navigate in the dark. Their great sense of smell allows them to pick up on nearby prey or threats. 

fox hunting at night

Other Fox Senses

Foxes do have a keen sense of hearing and smell. Their ears are big and sensitive to sound, and their noses are very sensitive to smells.

Hearing

Foxes possess a good sense of hearing and they make use of this when locating prey. 

They have been observed in the wild to be doing mousing behavior where they track a small rodent or prey under the snow. 

It’s believed that foxes’ hearing is so sharp, that they can hear a watch ticking from 120 feet away.

fox active at night

Smelling

The fox’s sense of smell is one of their most-used senses. Foxes take part in a scent-marking behavior, where they spread their sense to mark their territory. 

Foxes have their own unique smell, which can be used for identification. They spread their scents with scent glands, which they rub against trees, rocks, or other objects.

When a fox passes through another fox’s territory, they can even smell how dominant the fox is, which helps them determine whether they should run or fight.

Related: Do Foxes Smell? 

Conclusion

Foxes have great vision, primarily enhanced for nightly use. Their vertically slit pupils help them focus better, the tapetum lucidum (a reflective layer in their eyes) enhances their vision in dim light, and their abundance of rod cells do the same.

Foxes’ eyes have evolved differently than other canines. They have a wider field of vision (260 degrees).

Foxes are considered myopic, meaning they have a short-range vision, while objects farther away get blurry fast.

About Dennis Stapleton

Dennis Stapleton has a passion for animals, especially dogs, and their relatives. He’s intrigued by their social structure and loves to write and teach about the world's most popular pet animal.