Why Cats and Snakes Have Vertical Pupils

Vertical Pupils cat snake

To illustrate, while a tiger’s pupils take on a round shape, your domestic cat’s pupils do not share this trait. Similarly, a distinction in pupils is evident between a wolf and a fox. Consequently, an explanation beyond genetic lineage seems necessary to account for this variation.

One plausible theory originates from the advantageous nature of elongated pupils in terms of contraction and surface area reduction. This attribute proves particularly beneficial for creatures active both day and night, affording them enhanced control over the light entering their eyes. However, a question arises: why do non-circular pupils tend to be predominantly oriented vertically or horizontally, as opposed to diagonally, for instance? Furthermore, how can we rationalize the prevalence of this specific orientation among various animal species?

Eyes as Ecological Markers

Unlike cats, tigers have horizontal pupils.
Unlike cats, tigers have horizontal pupils.

In an article released in the Science Advances journal, a group of scientists hailing from the University of California, Berkeley, in the United States, and Durham University in the United Kingdom undertook an examination into the advantages of vertical pupils in both mammals and snakes. Their research successfully showcased a strong correlation between the configuration of pupils and the specific ecological role each studied species inhabited.

Vertical Pupils in Ambush Predators

Hence, animals possessing vertical pupils within their ecosystem commonly function as ambush-hunting predators. These creatures exhibit front-facing eyes and are active both day and night, reminiscent of cats and foxes. The vertical aperture in their eyes serves the crucial purpose of aiding them in accurately gauging distances by utilizing depth blur, all the while maintaining a sharp focus on points of significance, such as prey. Researchers have also concluded that these visual characteristics offer the greatest advantages to smaller ground-dwelling animals.

Horizontal Pupils for Panoramic Vision

Regarding horizontal pupils, they are predominantly found in creatures that engage in grazing behavior, where their eyes are positioned on the lateral aspects of the skull. Such pupils are commonly observed in prey species, which require vigilant observation of their environment to detect potential threats. The unique structure of their pupils affords them an expansive field of view, aiding in panoramic vision.