Have you noticed your chameleon’s eyes rotating in every direction?
Do you wonder how your chameleon’s eyes work?
When you are taking the time to learn about chameleons, you will find a great deal of information about their eyes and this might make you wonder:
Why do chameleons’ eyes rotate?
Chameleons will rotate their eyes to scan their surrounding area for food and predators without having to move their heads.
Continue reading to learn more about chameleon’s fascinating eyes and how they work.
Table of Contents
Why Do Chameleons’ Eyes Rotate?
Chameleons have some of the most interesting eyes in all of the animal world and the most distinctive of all reptiles.
Their eyes can rotate independently of each other to give the animal an almost 360-degree view of their surroundings.
A chameleon has a 342-degree field of vision because of the small blind spot behind their head of approximately 18 degrees.
These animals have a panoramic view of the world because of the anatomy of their eyes.
This allows them to view 180 degrees horizontally and 90 degrees vertically.
Their eyes rotate in this way to search for prey without having to move their heads.
The chameleon can remain perfectly still, while the eyes are constantly scanning for prey.
This characteristic allows the insects they want to consume to come into their range without being scared away by a chameleon’s body movements.
Any movement made could startle their prey and mean the loss of the potential meal.
If the chameleon sees an insect with one eye while scanning, the other will focus on what the first eye was looking at to get a clearer view and help give some level of depth perception.
Once the chameleon spots their prey, their tongue snaps out quickly to make the grab.
In addition to hunting for their next meal, these animals will rotate their eyes to keep on the lookout for predators.
Again, they can get a nearly complete look at their surroundings without having to move.
Add this ability to their skin coloration and body shape, and they have a reduced chance of attracting the eye of another animal looking to make them into a meal.
These traits have evolved over millennia to help keep the many species of chameleons intact.
How Can Chameleons Move Their Eyes Like This?
This independent movement and ability to rotate their eyes occur because of their unique anatomy.
If you look closely at a chameleon in person or at a picture of one, you will notice their eyes slightly bulge out on the side of their heads.
Their eyes can do this because of a very deep socket and a muscular eyelid keeping the eyeball in the socket.
The scaly eyelid is unique because it is one cone-shaped eyelid instead of being an upper and lower eyelid like a human’s.
The eyelid covers the eye, almost completely leaving a small hole exposing the pupil.
Think of a chameleon’s eye moving around like it is mounted on a small turret to swivel in any direction.
Each of their two eyes has its own little turret so the eyes can move on their own and in different directions at the same time.
The eyes have a full range of motion, giving them the ability to zero in on possible insects for eating.
While one eye is looking forward to their next snack, another is keeping an eye out for possible predators coming from behind.
What Else Makes A Chameleon’s Eyes Special?
Chameleons can zoom in on things with their eyes.
You will find they have the greatest magnification ability of all known vertebrates on the planet.
This ability comes from having a concave lens, also known as a negative lens, in their eye and a positive or convex cornea.
This allows them to have greater focus, especially when they are magnifying.
In addition to being able to see the world in a kind of high definition, a chameleon can see a much greater distance than a human being.
These combined abilities to magnify and do so at a great distance, give the chameleon an edge when they are on the hunt for insects to consume.
Their good eyesight allows them to see very small insects from as far away as five to ten meters.
Think of it as a telephoto lens on a camera zooming in to get the perfect shot.
Another fascinating characteristic found in a chameleon’s eyes is the ability to see light on the ultraviolet spectrum.
Ultraviolet, or UV light, has shorter wavelengths than visible light.
You and I can see visible light, and so can chameleons, but they have the added benefit of seeing light on the ultraviolet spectrum, where we are unable to do the same.
Can Chameleons See In The Dark?
It might seem like a chameleon’s eyes can do anything and everything.
From magnifying and swiveling and focusing, a chameleon’s eyes do have a lot of power, but they come up short in the dark.
They are virtually blind when it is dark outside, which is a major reason you will find them doing not much else besides sleeping from sundown to sun up.
The retina contains photoreceptors, or simply cells responsive to light.
These photoreceptors convert light into signals and send those signals to the brain for processing.
In the eyes, there are two types of photoreceptors called rods and cones.
Chameleons have mainly cones and very few rods, meaning they see the world around them in colors with hardly any contrast.
This makes it extremely difficult for them to see in the dark, making them very nearly blind.
Chameleons have a unique way of viewing the world around them.
Their rotating eyes move independently to be constantly scanning for their next meal and also to look for predators.
We hope after reading this article, you have a better understanding of why a chameleon will rotate their eyes.