If you are caring for a pet rabbit for the first time, you may be starting to wonder if your rabbit can recognize you.
Why does your pet often seem so startled when you walk by? Why can’t your rabbit see a tasty treat you put right in front of their cute little nose? What is the deal with rabbit eyesight?
Most importantly, how well does your rabbit see when it is dark? Can rabbits see in the dark? Let’s find out now!
Can Rabbits See in the Dark
Rabbits can see in the dark. In fact, rabbits see a lot better in low light conditions than they do when it is bright and sunny out!
In the rest of this article, we will take a much closer look at how rabbits see, what time of day they see best, and why rabbit eyesight is the way that it is.
Learn About How Well Rabbits See in the Dark
In this interesting YouTube video, you can learn some truly fascinating facts about your pet rabbit’s eyesight.
Rabbits see differently than people do and this is why sometimes it doesn’t make sense to us how rabbits respond to things – especially in low light conditions.
How Rabbits See in the Wild
As the University of Miami Rabbit Health Central explains, rabbits in the wild are crepuscular.
This is a word that means they are most active in lower light conditions like dawn and dusk.
Rabbits are neither diurnal like people or nocturnal like rats. So their eyesight has evolved to be best during the specific light conditions they most frequently encounter.
Rabbit eyesight has also evolved to help them have the maximum chance of staying alive while they are out and about foraging for food and looking for mates.
This means your rabbit not only sees the world differently than you do, but your rabbit also processes what they are seeing differently from how you would process the same image.
Imagine you are a wild rabbit and you are out looking for supper. You are most concerned about two things:
- Finding safe, tasty, nutritious foods to eat.
- Avoiding becoming dinner for another animal.
So rabbits have evolved to see well in the places where opportunities and threats are most likely to be found – overhead, to each side, and behind them.
Rabbits don’t see well in the forward direction and they can’t see at all what is literally between and before their two eyes – they literally have a blind spot in that one area!
Understanding the Rabbit Eye
Now we will look at how the rabbit eye is constructed.
Three Little Ladies Rabbitry explains that rabbits don’t see color, light, or depth the way people do.
Rabbit color vision
The human eye has three sets of cones. Cones help us see in color. The more cones the eye has, the more colors can be perceived.
Research to date suggests that rabbits only have two cones. The two cones that a rabbit has are the ones that are sensitive to the blue and green color spectrums. The red spectrum cone is missing, which essentially means rabbits are red color blind.
Rabbit light detection
According to VGR1, rabbit research indicates that rabbits have a significant number of rods, which is why they are able to see better in low light conditions.
However, the rabbit eye is missing a structure called the tapetum, which is what truly nocturnal animals have. It is the animal equivalent of night vision.
This is why researchers categorize rabbits as crepuscular rather than nocturnal. They see best in the in-between periods of dawn and dusk.
Rabbit depth perception
Binocular vision – the degree to which the two eyes overlap – is what conveys the ability of depth perception.
Humans, with their front-facing, forward-looking eyes, tend to have excellent depth perception.
Rabbits, with their sideways-facing, side-placement eyes, do not tend to have very good depth perception.
Researchers estimate that, overall, rabbits may have only 30 percent overlap between their two eyes. This is part of why rabbits have that trademark front-facing blind spot right in between the eyes and above the nose.
Rabbit third eyelid
Rabbit eyes also have an additional safety and protection feature that the human eye lacks. This is called the third eyelid or the nictitating membrane.
This membrane is a translucent eyelid that sits behind the main eyelid. It is clear enough that your rabbit can still see while moving through underbrush and conditions that might otherwise harm the eye itself.
As the Wisconsin House Rabbit Society explains, the nictitating membrane also serves another function: lubrication.
Rabbits only blink about 12 times every hour! They can get away with this because the nictitating membrane keeps their eye moist as well as protected.
How Rabbit Eyesight Works
So let’s take a closer look at how rabbit eyesight works.
As the Rabbit Producers Association explains, rabbit vision is sometimes called “night vision.”
But the way the rabbit eye works isn’t precisely like night vision. It is actually more like far-sighted, nearly 360-degree vision in low light conditions.
This type of vision delivers a rather grainy picture – what we humans might call a “low resolution” image.
But a wild rabbit doesn’t need a high-resolution image of a hawk or coyote.
It is enough to see a large moving shape coming towards them – they don’t want to stick around long enough to find out exactly what that shape is because then it might be too late.
The rabbit eye can see all the way over, behind, and above the animal, with the exception of that one tiny blind spot right in the center of the face between the two eyes.
Rabbits do not have much visual overlap or binocular vision, and this is why that blind spot exists. This is also why your rabbit will not see a treat if you put it right in front of its nose. They literally can’t see it!
And it is why your rabbit does that cute head-cocking thing where they look at you from one eye. This is the rabbit-equivalent of staring straight at you. Because of their eye placement, they can only do this from the side of their face.
Can Your Rabbit See Well in the Dark?
Rabbit eyesight isn’t keen like human eyesight and the eyesight of many other animals.
Rabbits actually see quite poorly, relatively speaking. But they see functionally. The rabbit eye has been optimized to keep the rabbit fed and alive.
This is why rabbits can see in places where people cannot see, like behind them. It is why rabbits see better at dawn and dusk than in the absence of light or in bright light.
And it is why the images that the rabbit’s eye delivers are not sharp and crisp but grainy and not that colorful.
Most importantly for your purposes, as you care for your rabbit, it is why your rabbit will not even see things right in front of its nose. And it is why your rabbit may always startle if you approach them suddenly from certain angles.
Is Your Rabbit Scared of Your Shadow?
The truth is, rabbits can learn to identify your basic shape as well as your scent and your voice frequencies. But your rabbit may always be sacred of your shadow.