We know penguins spend a lot of time underwater, and so I wondered do penguins have good eyesight?
Surely they would need this to be able to hunt underwater for extended periods of time?
So I took a closer look into this, and found some really useful information.
So do penguins have good eyesight? Yes penguins do have good eyesight. They can see well on land and in water. They have binocular vision so can perceive depth, have a special third eyelid called a nictitating membrane, can see in the dark and are able to see some colors.
The above is just the very briefest of answers. For further information about how exactly penguins see underwater, a magical third eyelid and their ability to see in color, keep reading below.
Do Penguins Have Good Eyesight?
So let’s take a bit of a deeper dive into the question of do penguins have good eyesight (see what I did there)!
If we think about the environment penguins live in, they experience a real range of colors. What I mean by this is that when on land, they spend their time mostly in a white environment, surrounded by snow.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, they also spend a lot of time diving in the sea to hunt for food. Obviously the further down they dive, the darker the waters will become as they move further away from the source of light above them.
A penguin’s eyes are adapted perfectly to be able to see both on land and underwater. I’ve gone into some more detail below as to exactly why penguins can see underwater, but they can, and they do this very well. Amazingly, penguins can even sleep underwater.
Being able to see underwater not only helps them to hunt for food, but also to stay safe from predators. Similarly on land, due to having binocular vision, they are able to perceive any threats in their environment, also keeping them safe.
Generally penguins do not need to worry about humans hunting them, just other animals. This is because it is actually illegal for humans to kill or eat penguins.
Due to the fact that penguins very rarely see humans, they are not likely to attack them. Penguins will defend themselves if they feel they are being threatened.
Another interesting thing I found out when researching penguins is that penguins bury their dead. So if their mate dies, they will bury them in a kind of special ceremony. There are not many other creatures on this planet that actually do this!
If you read on below, you will also see that penguins are able to see and perceive colors. Not the full range of colors, but the ones they need to look for food and to stay safe. They can also see colors that humans cannot.
How Do Penguins See Underwater?
I have like a million things that I find annoying, and a lot of them are small insignificant things. But not for me. I love to swim, and will go regularly to supplement my running routine. But nothing destroys my morning swim like forgetting my goggles.
Like all humans, I am terrible at seeing underwater. I mean I can open my eyes, but I can’t see a thing. Worse than this, if I do a few lengths without my goggles, my eyes sting badly, and I look like I’ve been punched in the face when I get out of the pool!
The same cannot be said of the mighty penguin. Penguins spend a large proportion of their time in the ocean, as this is where they find most of their food. To be able to navigate, find food, and spend hours in the water, penguins are specifically built for seeing underwater!
Penguins are also very cleverly able to turn saltwater into freshwater. This helps a penguin as it digests a lot of this water when diving for food. Penguins do not pee, and so they use this process of turning saltwater into freshwater to help with this.
So how do penguins see underwater? A penguins corneas are surrounded by strong muscles that stretch and flatten them. As they are flat, light does not bend when it enters the cornea, and so images are not blurry underwater.
They also have a sort of third eyelid, called a nictitating membrane, which keeps saltwater out of their eyes!
So in answering the question do penguins have good eyesight, purely from a seeing underwater point of view we can see that they do!
Being able to see underwater is very important for a penguin’s survival, so the fact that they can both see well, and have their eyes protected with their sort of third eyelid helps penguins tremendously!
Penguins also have tails, and these are useful as they help them to steer while swimming.
Do Penguins Have Binocular Vision?
Another thing to look at when answering the question of do penguins have good eyesight, is whether or not they have binocular vision.
So firstly, let’s clear up what I mean by binocular vision. This is where an animal has two eyes facing in the same direction, which can function together to perceive a three dimensional image.
There are many animals that do not have binocular vision. Instead of their eyes being positioned closer together and forward facing, their eyes will be positioned more to the sides of their head or face.
The benefit of this is that it gives these animals a wider field of vision. For animals that either need to hunt for food, or are constantly trying to avoid predators, they will be able to see more of the world around them.
The problem with this is that without binocular vision, an animal lacks depth perception.
So they can see more of their surroundings in order to detect predators. However, due to either lacking or not having such good depth perception, they will not be able to see how close their predators are in the way that animals with binocular vision can.
Penguins, just like us humans, do have binocular vision. Their eyes are forward facing like ours, and they are able to perceive depth and three dimensional images. This also helps us in our understating of the question do penguins have good eyesight.
Do Penguins Have Clear Eyelids?
Weirdly the answer to the question of do penguins have clear eyelids is both yes and no. Penguins have regular eyelids just like us that are not clear in color. They work just like ours, in that penguins will blink just like we do.
Where they differ, and why you could also say the answer is yes, is that they also have something that could be referred to as a third eyelid, and this one is clear in color. The technical term for this is a nictitating membrane, which we mentioned above.
Many birds have this third eyelid, and it can also be found in many mammals and reptiles. The purpose of this is to protect the eye, and to keep it moist, whilst also retaining the ability to see. This is also useful for penguins as it helps them when they are diving deep underwater.
It’s interesting the things you find out when you are researching animals. Not only do penguins have a third eyelid, but I bet you didn’t know that penguins also have knees!
Can Penguins See In The Dark?
In order to answer the question of do penguins have good eyesight, we need to talk about their ability to see in the dark. If they cannot, this would have an impact on how good their eyesight actually is.
For a long time, many scientists believed that penguins had poor night time vision, and this was the reason they did not swim at night time.
Now obviously we can’t just walk up to penguins and ask if they can see at night. That is unless you speak penguin. Which would be pretty cool. So then how do we find out if penguins can see in the dark?
David Ainley, and Grant Ballard, both marine ecologists, decided to find an answer to this question, and so devised an experiment to do just this. They fitted a device called a time-depth recorder to a number of Adélie penguins.
This device constantly registers depth and light. What the researchers found was that these penguins dived deep enough when hunting to be in waters that would have the same visibility as early night time.
Whilst they only recorded this on Adélie penguins, there are in fact other penguins that dive deeper, into waters that are completely dark. So penguins clearly can see in the dark.
Penguins will most likely choose not to go into these waters at night, and rather stay in a place of safety to avoid being eaten by predators such as killer whales.
Are Penguins Color Blind?
Another interesting fact about me, besides the fact that I like to swim and can’t see without my goggles, is that I am color blind. Catastrophically color blind. There are different levels of this, with some people just struggling with green and brown, or perhaps purple and blue.
Unfortunately for me I get pretty much all of my colors mixed up, and this can lead to problems.
I remember in primary school being asked to draw and color in a robin redbreast. Upon completion and submission, I was seriously chastised as my teacher thought I was pushing my luck by coloring in the redbreast green!
Of course being color blind does not mean that you can’t see any colors at all. It just means that you mix them up, or can’t distinguish between them. Only in very rare cases will people only be able to see in shades of black and white.
So what about penguins? Are they color blind also, or can penguins see in color? Penguins are not color blind. They can see colors on the violet, blue and green wavelengths. Due to the way their eyes are conditioned from the water, they can not see red. It is thought that they can see ultraviolet light, something humans cannot do.
So penguins can see in color! Not all colors, but the ones they need to be able to for sure! This also helps us in our understanding of the question do penguins have good eyesight!
So there you have it. I set out to answer the question do penguins have good eyesight, and we can safely say that they do. They have binocular vision, and can therefore perceive three dimensional objects and also have depth perception.
They can see pretty well in the dark, as studies have shown. This is useful when they are deep diving to catch food. They can see well underwater, and this is aided by their third eyelid, or nictitating membrane.
They are also able to see in color. Not all colors, but the ones they need to for hunting and finding food.
I hope you found this post useful and interesting. If you have any questions, then please feel free to leave a comment below.