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Can Snakes See Well?

snakes, vision, senses
In general, snakes see shapes, not details. (Image credit: stylesr1 | sxc.hu)

With the exception of a few species that have adapted to daytime hunting, most snakes do not see well. Generally they can see shapes but not details.

This poor eyesight probably owes to their evolutionary history as burrowers, living in the dark where eyes weren't much use.

Snakes called pit vipers can see well at night by an amazing trick. Their pits (one on each side of the head) sense heat (infrared light) like night vision goggles. These pits, not eyes, actually are thought to render images of prey in the snakes' brains.

Interestingly, Cobras' senses are sharp enough to aim for the eyes when spitting venom. They know, apparently, that the venom will blind a human or other foe.

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Rob was a writer and editor at Space.com starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.