Have you ever seen a chameleon’s unique eye structure?
Do you wonder how chameleons can move their eyes in two different directions?
Looking at their incredible eyes, you may wonder:
How do chameleons see?
Chameleons see through joined upper and lower eyelids with a 360-degree arc of vision and can move each eye independently.
Continue reading for more expanded information about the chameleon’s unique eyes and how they can see.
Table of Contents
Unique Eye Features
Chameleons have some of the most unique eyes in the animal kingdom. These are some of the most spectacular features of a chameleon’s eye and are what make them the most visually-oriented lizards.
Joined Upper and Lower Lids
The upper and lower eyelids of chameleons are joined together, leaving only a pinhole-sized space for their pupils to peek out.
The eyelid on a chameleon is fused to the chameleon’s eye, leaving only a small part of their pupils exposed and protecting the rest of the eye from harm.
The eyes of the chameleon sit on either side of its head and stick out, giving these lizard panoramic vision and the ability to see what is happening on both sides.
These features particularly help the chameleon track prey and avoid predators.
Chameleons have a negative lens, which means their lens is concave.
The negative lens means chameleons can focus more precisely on their vision due to the increased power in their cornea.
When compared with all other vertebrates, chameleons have the highest image magnification.
Chameleons have a positive cornea, meaning it is convex.
This gives their corneas more strength and power, and also means their sight resolution is better in a narrow field of vision.
This means no matter how near or far a predator or prey is, chameleons can size up whatever it is they take into their field of vision.
Chameleons are especially well equipped to spot small prey or sneaky predators with this ability.
The unique combination of a negative lens and positive cornea gives the chameleon some incredible powers of sight.
Chameleons are the only vertebrate using monocular focusing for depth perception, meaning they only use one eye, where other vertebrates need two.
Both of the chameleons’ eyes can focus on different objects or the same object at once.
When scanning for prey, a chameleon’s eyes will independently travel until a worm or other treat is found.
Then, the two different images from the two eyes will snap from monocular to binocular, and the chameleon can effectively zoom in on prey as far as 10m away.
360 Degree Arc of Vision
Switching between monocular and binocular vision helps the chameleon see 360 degrees around its body.
They can see 180 degrees horizontally and 90 degrees in either direction vertically.
The structure of a chameleon’s eye also helps them to achieve an unparalleled range of vision.
Inside their protruding lids, chameleon’s eyeballs are mounted on twin conical turrets.
These turrets are held in place by the conical lids and can bulge out safely.
This means the eyes can rotate up to 180 degrees with ease.
Independent Eye Movement
Chameleons can move their eyes independently from one another, which gives them distinct advantages.
When a chameleon is hunting for prey, it uses a monocular vision to send both eyes in different directions.
This allows them to cover twice as much ground when searching as they would if they only used binocular vision.
When chameleons are using uncoupled vision like this, the eyes send two different pictures to the brain.
The chameleon can see both images from both eyes, like two different movie screens.
When the chameleon finds prey, the two eyes sync up, and both eyes focus on one image.
Then, the eye movements become synchronized, and the chameleon turns its head towards its prey, or whatever has caught its attention.
For years, scientists were unsure if chameleons were able to see from both sides at once, but using a computer, they were able to track a chameleon’s vision and confirm both eyes can track different objects at the same time.
The Evolution of Chameleons
Chameleons are unique, and their eyes evolved the way they did for several reasons.
Chameleon’s incredible eyes help them capture their prey and avoid predators.
Chameleons can capture prey with minimal movement thanks to their eyes.
With both eyes working independently, chameleons can search high and low for nourishment.
Thanks to their powerful corneas, chameleons can easily judge the distance of prey without moving their heads.
They can track two different things for an extended period before deciding which to focus on.
This allows them ample time to figure out which prey they have the highest chance of getting.
Chameleons are slow-moving lizards, and cannot rely on their speed to keep themselves safe.
Being able to see all around their body and from great distances is critical for a chameleon’s survival.
For this reason, chameleons developed its unique eyesight to help keep themselves alive.
Chameleon’s natural habitats are large and leafy spaces, which leaves a lot of places for predators to hide.
With the ability to move their eyes independently to scan around them, chameleons are often able to keep themselves out of harm’s way.
Chameleons are also able to use their incredible eyes to judge the distance of a predator without needing to move their heads, keeping themselves still and inconspicuous.
We hope you enjoyed learning about how chameleons see.
Chameleons have some of the most unique eyes in the animal kingdom with a 360-degree arc of vision and the ability to move both eyes independently.
Their incredible eyes allow chameleons to stay safe from predators and catch prey more efficiently – they truly are amazing creatures.
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