Predator and Prey Eyes

Predator and Prey Eyes

by Rita Goldner

As authors, we often use eyes as a metaphor for something else, like insight, perception, or the ability to foretell. For this post, I’m starting with a literal discussion of eyes: their pupil shapes and position on the head. Since I’m an avowed animal-lover, I read voraciously about their behavior, evolutionary traits, etc. I’m intrigued by the complex ways predators and prey animals evolve to better suit their hunter or hunted status. Some of their adaptations, like claws for catching vs hooves for running away, are pretty obvious – eyes, not so much.

Sheep and fox

A study conducted by scientists from the University of California in Berkeley and Dunham University in Britain has observed differences in pupil shape. Small predators that must stalk and ambush prey have vertical slits for two important reasons. First, the slit shape allows for a much greater range in muscular contracting and expanding than a round pupil. Therefore it gives the eye a wider choice in how much light to let in or block, which is great for day and night hunting. Secondly, the vertical shape is better for judging distance, based on clues from the blur of a moving prey. This is especially important for small predators like your house cat and this pictured fox, because they need to sneak up and surprise their quarry. Larger predators like lions and tigers have round pupils because they don’t need that much depth-of-field accuracy; they just chase down their dinner and take it with brute force.

Prey animals, like sheep, deer, and horses, have horizontal pupils, shaped like a letter-slot on your front door. They let in light fore and aft, while blocking glaring overhead light. Since their pupils are parallel to the ground, these animals can see predators running in from all sides. The really cool part is that when the animals lower their heads to graze, the pupils rotate to remain horizontal!

Prey & predator eyes

The placement of eyes on the head is also a predator-prey adaptation. Predators need 3-D vision, to focus on the animal they are either chasing or pouncing on, so they have forward-facing eyes with overlapping fields of vision. Grazing prey, on the other hand, need to see who’s approaching from all around, so they have sideways-facing eyes. They have such good peripheral vision that they can see behind themselves.

In the midst of all this scientific jargon, I hope we can extract a nugget of wisdom for authors. We have a unique position among entrepreneurs in that we make a product with the creative side of our brains, then market and sell it with the business side of our brains. So I guess the metaphor would be that we are required to have both sets of eyes. With the forward-facing binocular ones, we can focus on our target: our creative goals and literary agenda. Meanwhile, we can’t forget that “it’s a jungle out there,” and while we’re calmly grazing, we must keep our 360-degree lookout for predators on the business side, like unprofessional agents, vanity publishers, events or people that diminish our confidence, and even time-stealers and momentum disruptors. Keep your eyes open!

Rita signature

Comments welcome!

Rita Goldner
is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Rita Goldner2Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series.For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit Or by the Kindle version here. Rita’s newest book, Making Marks on the World: A Storybook for Left- and Right-Handed Coloring, is available for purchase here. Works in progress: H2O Rides the Water CycleThe Flying Artist, and Rose ColoredTo view additional illustrations and Rita’s books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook. Subscribe to Rita’s newsletter, Orangutans and More! and receive a free coloring page of today’s illustration.

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4 Responses to Predator and Prey Eyes

  1. Rits, I love your writing and your blog posts. This is a delightful analogy comparing animal’s eyes (both predator and preyed upon) with a writer’s eyes. I’ve had my share of being preyed upon, but eventually I’ve learned to recognize predators and fend them off. (Too bad I didn’t have that skill before I married a few of them.)


  2. brad217 says:

    Rita – what an interesting post. Thanks for sharing. Wonderfully done!


  3. marym500 says:

    Fascinating; I’d never given much thought to animal eyes, but now I’d like to learn more. And I enjoyed your amusing conclusion about surviving in the author’s jungle.


  4. Beth Kozan says:

    Don’t know how I missed opening this post in a timely manner (other than the hint that there are 999+ unread msgs still waiting in this email box) but .I am so glad I DID find it!

    I’ve noticed goats very interesting eye pupils, and I’m releived to think of their pupils in grazing mode, when they can better see foes sneaking up on them! Thank you for educating your readers, including me!!

    I enjoyed this post of yours!

    Beth Kozan


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