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Why Do Wolves’ Eyes Glow in the Dark?

Have you ever wondered why a wolf’s eyes appear to “glow” in the dark? While it may seem spooky, this phenomenon is easily explained by science.

Wolves have a special layer of reflective cells behind their retinas called the tapetum lucidum. The retroreflective nature of the tapetum lucidum causes it to reflect light back along the same path it arrived, which means that light passing through the retina is reflected back into the eye. This improves night vision for wolves but also creates the eye shine caused at night. Their eyes aren’t actually glowing – the light is just reflected.

Eye diagram from Ask Nature.

Wolves are crepuscular by nature, which means they’re typically more active at dawn and dusk; the tapetum lucidum and specially designed retinas enable wolves to thrive during these low-light periods. Their retinas contain two types of light detecting cells – rods and cones. Rods are sensitive to light and detect brightness, making these cells good for seeing objects in low light. Cones, on the other hand, work in bright light and contain different pigments that allow wolves to perceive color. Because they need relatively bright light to function, cones are not useful at night but they can detect more detail that rods would miss.

The tapetum lucidum, coupled with the combination of rods and cones, enables wolves to see much better than humans at night. Spooky, glow-in-the-dark eyes? More like reflective supervision!