If you are a cat owner you may have had the wonderful experience of waking up in the middle of the night to hear your kitty destroying the throw rugs or hissing loudly at some mystical being outside the window (or at your home’s friendly ghost). These adorable, albeit sometimes annoying, nighttime antics would suggest your cat can see incredibly well in the dark and might be nocturnal.
Do cats have night vision? Not exactly. They can see very well in low light, however — a skill that gave domestic cats’ ancestors an advantage over their prey. As American Veterinarian explains, cats’ large corneas and pupils, which are about 50% larger than humans’, allow more light into their eyes. This extra light helps them to see in the dark.
People’s homes are rarely in complete darkness — there’s always a little light coming in from somewhere — which is why humans think their cats have night vision goggles. They don’t, but it can seem that way when your cat wakes you up for a midnight meal. Cats actually aren’t nocturnal; they are crepuscular creatures that hunt at dusk and dawn, the time of day when many other animals (i.e., prey) become more active. Talk about perfect timing.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that animals that have vertically slit pupils, including cats, are more likely to be ambush predators. In contrast to animals whom the researchers refer to as “active foragers,” ambush predators are active during both day and night.
Although our kitty companions can see on the darkest of nights, cats don’t necessarily see better in the dark than they can see in the daytime. Cat eyes have evolved to aid them in nighttime activities, but their eyes still function best in daylight.