If you’re a new pet rat owner, you may be curious about your rat’s eyesight, particularly during nighttime play. A question in your mind may be whether they can see in the dark. In this article, I’ll provide you with answers, including how their night vision, or lack thereof, contributes to their ability to survive in the wild as well as tips regarding their diet, natural environment, and predators.
Before we start, let’s take a closer look at a rat’s general eyesight. I’ll mainly focus on rats of colors like black, piebald, or gray. Albino rats will also be discussed briefly below.
A rat’s eyesight consists of two types of cone cells: one that senses ultraviolet (UV) light and the other that senses visible light in the middle of the spectrum. Rats can sense UV light, allowing them to follow the trails of urine left behind by other rats, as it’s evidently visible in UV.
Like other mammals, rats have limited color vision. For rats, colors appear blurry and faint, similar to color-blindness. Their eyes are laterally placed on the sides of their heads, providing a larger field of vision, but poor depth perception.
Life in the Wild
Although domesticated and wild rats share many similarities, fancy rats have been bred to differ greatly from their wild ancestors. However, domestic rats’ vision and foraging behaviors remain similar to those of wild rats.
Wild rats spend a significant portion of their time identifying and avoiding predators like eagles or owls. Because they are prey animals, their eyes are laterally situated to provide a panoramic view that allows them to scan two fields of view instantly, helping them detect predators. Contrast this with predators like dogs, whose eyes are located more towards the front for better focus on prey but limit their field of view.
Can Rats See in the Dark?
The answer to whether rats can see in the dark is no, but not having this ability is of little significance. They have other senses crucial to their survival. Despite their nocturnal nature, they have poor nighttime vision due to their poor ability to see in low-lit conditions.
Do Rats Like Light or Dark?
Rats are sensitive to bright light that could harm their eyes, so light conditions of darkness or semi-shaded environment suit them best.
Rats and Their Senses
Rats’ whiskers are crucial to their navigational instincts. These delicately twitching whiskers purposefully help rats find their way around new territories. Using their whiskers, the rats can navigate easily through both familiar and unfamiliar regions in the dark.
Rats also have exceptional smell and hearing senses.
Finding Food – The Role of Rat Vision
As omnivorous animals, rats eat a variety of foods in the wild, which enables them to adapt to a range of environments. Rats typically follow the smell of food on the breath, fur, and whiskers of other rats to identify safe foods to consume. However, it’s not their eyes that lead them to their next meal.
Albino rats have worse vision than pigmented rats and an impaired sense of smell. Consequently, they rely more on their hearing than sight to navigate and survive.
Rats and The Dark
While rats have limited nighttime vision, their heightened senses of touch, smell, and hearing help them navigate easily at night.
Is Your Rat An Ace Night Time Navigator?
Although your rat’s vision may not be the best at night, have they ever impressed you with their nocturnal agility?
Let me know in the comments section!
References and Further Reading
Bronstein and Crockett. 1976. Behavioural Biology. Exposure to the odor of food determines the eating preferences of rats pups.
Jacobs et al. 2001. The Journal of Experimental Biology. Cone-based vision of rats for ultraviolet and visible lights.
Sachs. 1996. Physiology and Behavior. Penile Erection in Response to Remote Cues From Females: Albino Rats Severely Impaired Relative to Pigmented Strains.
A healthy diet for rats. RSPCA.
Rats purposefully use their whiskers in different ways to help navigate in the dark. University of Sheffield.
A suitable environment for rats. RSPCA.
Arkley et al. 2014. Current Biology. Strategy Change in Vibrassal Active Sensing During Rat Locomotion.