Can Cows See In The Dark? (And How They Do It!)

Cows can not see in complete darkness, however they do have much better vision in low light than humans, allowing them to see at night.

In this article, we’ll explore the extent to which cows can see in the dark, why they need to be able to see at night, and how their night vision compares to other animals.

Can Cows See In The Dark

Can Cows See in the Dark?

Cows can see well in very low light situations, but would be unable to see in complete darkness.

Luckily, even the smallest light source is enough for cows to see enough to function properly at night, so they can see by the light of the moon and stars, even when it would be too dark for humans to see.

Can All Cows See In The Dark?

All cows can see in the dark. In fact, every animal species in the Bovidae family of animals can see in the dark. This doesn’t only include cows, but related animals like buffalo, bison, deer, elk, and antelopes.

Can Cows See at Night?

Cows can see very well at night, because their eyes allow them to see well in low light environments. 

Cows have specifically evolved to be able to see at night, only using the small amount of light that comes from the moon and stars.

How Well Can Cows See At Night?

Cows can see well enough to move around at night without bumping into things or each other, and to find good grazing areas.

Cows can still see better during the day though, and they communicate audibly with each other at night to keep the herd safe.

Read more: Why do Cows Moo at Night?

How Do Cows See In The Dark?

Cows’ eyes are built with an extra reflective layer behind their retinas called a tapetum lucidum, which allows them to pick up lower levels of light than animals without one.

This special reflective layer means that once light passes through their retina, it’s reflected outwards again, passing through their retina twice and providing another chance for the light receptor cells to absorb the light.

In layman’s terms, cows’ eyes give them an extra chance to process light, which means that in low light situations their eyes can pick up details that other animals can’t.

Why Do Cows Need to be able to See in the Dark?

Cows need to be able to see at night for two reasons:

1. To Find Food

Cows only sleep for four hours each day, which means they have lots of time to forage, even at night!

Cows need to be able to see where they are going, and what they are eating in order to find food at night.

Read More: Do Cows Lie Down to go to Sleep?

2. To See Predators

Cows are prey animals, and although modern day cattle don’t have too many predators, they maintained their excellent eyesight and their prey instincts from their feral bovine ancestors.

Read More: How Were Cows Domesticated?

Cows’ excellent low-light eyesight allows them to see predators in the dark, and alert the herd to any potential dangers.

Do Cows have Night Vision?

Cows have great eyesight in low light levels, so you could say they have a sort of night vision.

Cows eyes work similar to how night vision technology works, but in a more rudimentary way. 

Where night vision goggles pick up low light levels and amplify them electronically to create a visible image, cows’ eyes pick up extra detail in low light situations by reflecting light back through their retina for a second chance at being absorbed by the light sensitive receptor cells in their eyes.

Can Cows See Infrared?

It’s not possible for any warm-blooded animal (including cows) to see infrared light. Since our bodies are warm and thus generate infrared light, it would render our entire visual system useless.

Although cows can’t see infrared light, some cold blooded animals like snakes and other reptiles can, and it helps them spot warm-blooded prey animals.

Do Cows Have Eyeshine? (Do Cows’ Eyes Glow?)

Cows’ eyes do have eyeshine. Their eyes reflect brightly in the dark because of their extra reflective layer (tapetum lucidum) which helps them see in the dark.

Apart from Cows, what other Animals can See In The Dark?

Although we humans can’t see in the dark, it’s actually quite common for animals to be able to see in low light.

Cows’ ability to see in the dark is impressive, but it’s by no means unique in the animal world.

Many animals can see in the dark, but not all animals share the same method of low-light reflection that cows do. 

Animals can see in the dark without this special reflective layer on the back of their eyes if they are cold blooded, since they can detect infrared light (heat), or if they use another method of understanding their environment (like bats).

Some examples of other animals that can see in the dark and what type of low-light vision they have:

SpeciesType of Night Vision
CowsReflective Layer (tapetum lucidum)
SnakesCold Blooded / Infrared
HumansNo additional low light vision
CatsReflective Layer (tapetum lucidum)
Birds of PreyReflective Layer (tapetum lucidum)
LizardsCold Blooded / Infrared

Read Also: Why do Cows Stare at you?


Cows can see well at night, as long as they have a small amount of light from the moon or stars. Theoretically, a cow could not see anything in complete darkness, but apart from the very darkest nights, there is usually enough light for them to see.

Cows can see in the dark because their eyes reflect low levels of light back through their retinas, giving them a “second chance” at registering the light bouncing off whatever they are looking at.

Cows developed this ability because they spend some of the night grazing (cows only need four hours of sleep) and need to be able to find food, and also as a way to spot any predators.

Aside from cows, there are many other animals which can see at night, including bats who use echolocation, other bovids, cats, and birds of prey who use the same method as cows, and reptiles and amphibians who are cold blooded and can detect infrared light.

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