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Do Wolves Have Night Vision?

Wolves are nocturnal animals, meaning they hunt and scavenge at night. 

Yes, wolves do have night vision. Their ability to see in the dark is superior to almost any animal on earth, only bested by a few. Wolves have developed this incredible ability to see in the dark because of their nocturnal behavior.

It’s estimated that wolves can see several times better than humans at night.

All Wolfpack Ranks (Wolf Facts) x
All Wolfpack Ranks (Wolf Facts)

They have an additional layer of tissue on their eyes called the tapetum lucidum, which provides incredible eyesight in the dark.

Read more about wolves and their ability to see in the dark in this article.

Can Wolves See in the Dark?

Yes, wolves can see in the dark. This is due to the Tapetum Lucidum, an extra layer to their eyes. This is a reflective layer, meaning it sends light back through their eyes, increasing the light exposure.

Wolves might be known for their howls, but wolves are also one of the few animals that have excellent night vision. 

They often hunt at night because it is easier to catch prey in darkness and wolves can use moonlight to see better.

The reason why wolves are able to see well in the dark has a lot to do with their eyes. Wolves have an extra layer of tissue called the tapetum lucidum. This is a shiny, reflective surface that lines wolves’ eyes and helps them see better in low light conditions like at night or on dark cloudy days. [1]

The reflective property of the tapetum lucidum bounces incoming light back through their retina to make images more clear in dim lighting.

Wolves also have an increased number of rod cells in their eyes compared to other animals. 

Rods are photoreceptor cells that provide vision in low-light conditions. [2]

wolf at night

The Tapetum Lucidum

The Tapetum Lucidum is a layer of tissue behind the retina. The tapetum lucidum helps refract light through it so that wolves can see clearly in darkness.

This is also why wolves’ eyes shine at night. The small amount of light available is bounced back from the wolf’s eyes. [3]

The Tapetum Lucidum serves as a mirror to reflect light back through the retina.

The wolves’ superior night vision is a result of the combination of the high density of rods and tapetum lucidum.

wolf eyes close up

How Well Do Wolves See at Night?

Wolves have excellent vision in low lighting conditions. It’s estimated to be between several times better than that of humans, as well as other animals. This enables them to navigate well when hunting or searching for food.

How far can wolves see at night?

Wolves have an average vision of 75 feet before things start to get blurry. It’s unknown how this changes at night, but it’s believed that it decreases a bit to around 50 feet. 

This number is highly dependent on wolves’ age and health. 

Wolves, however, are also very good at detecting motion and movement, which they can do at much farther distances.

wolf hunting at night

Why do wolves’ eyes glow in the dark?

If you’ve ever noticed a wolf’s eyes glowing at night, you’re not alone. There’s a scientific reason behind it.

The Tapetum Lucidum, which acts as an enhancer of light within the eyes of wolves, is the reason behind this.

As light travels into the eyes, it’s supposed to hit a photoreceptor. While it does do this, it also hits the Tapetum Lucidum, which then reflects & refracts light, increasing the amount of light hitting the photoreceptors.

As this happens, light is also reflected out of the eyes. The glow in their eyes is simply light bounced back from this reflective layer.

wolf eyes reflection in the dark

Also seen in other nocturnal predators

Wolves aren’t the only animals with this trait. This is something seen in many nocturnal predators. Animals that hunt at night have developed better night vision over many hundreds of years (if not thousands), much of it in the same way.

A good example is an owl. Owls have the best night vision out of all animals on the planet – and just like wolves, their eyes shine at night. This is also seen in cats, foxes, and other similar animals.

Related: Are wolves nocturnal?

Why Do Wolves Have Red Eyes?

Wolves don’t have red eyes. This is simply an illusion, created by light. There are two factors to this:

  1. The Tapetum Lucidum
  2. The way wolves see colors

First of all, the Tapetum Lucidum. As stated earlier, this is the reflective layer that increases light exposure within wolves’ eyes. This is what makes light bounce back from their eyes, making them glow at night.

Second, how wolves see colors. Wolves can only see blue and yellow colors since they only have cone photoreceptors for these. In other words, wolves can only see colors with wavelengths that match yellow and blue (580 nm to 450 nm).

Related: Are wolves colorblind?

This also means that red light is reflected back, as it can’t be absorbed.

Color works by reflecting light with specific wavelengths. If an object only reflects blue light, we see it as blue.

Since wolves reflect red light, we see their eyes as red. As stated before, their eyes aren’t actually red, it’s merely an illusion due to how light works, in combination with how their photoreceptors work.

Close up portrait wolf in autumn forest background

Does the yellow eye color help with night vision?

Having yellow eyes doesn’t increase night vision. The fact that wolves have yellow is solely due to their DNA.

Yellow eye color is a dominant trait with wolves, which is why it’s very common for wolves to have this eye color.

Related: Wolves eye color

Do wolves have good eyesight?

Wolves have a variety of traits, and wolves’ eyesight is no different. While wolves do not see as well in the light compared to humans or other animals, they have superior night vision thanks to their tapetum lucidum.

Wolves are also very quick at spotting movement, which helps them find prey to hunt.

In terms of field of view, wolves are equipped with a 180-degrees field of view. This helps them stay locked to their target as they hunt, and is very common for predators.

wolf hunting in autumn forest

What Animal Has The Best Night Vision?

Wolves, while having great night vision, aren’t at the top of the leaderboard. Owls have taken this seat. They have superior night vision to any animal on the planet and can see almost perfectly at night. [4]

They can also turn their heads 270 degrees, helping them track prey.

Conclusion

Wolves can see very well at night, as they’ve evolved great night vision. This is due to their Tapetum Lucidum, a reflective layer that increases light exposure to their photoreceptors.

This reflective layer is also responsible for their glowing eyes, and the appearance of having red eyes (which they don’t).

Wolves use this night vision to hunt at night, as they are nocturnal animals. In the day, their vision isn’t anything special, apart from their ability to detect movement at great distances.

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.