No snakes can see light in the pitch black. Instead, many snakes rely on heat vision to see their prey at night.
There is a wide range of snake species with varying abilities to see in the dark.
Some snakes like the pythons and vipers have holes in their faces. These things are called pit organs. They can detect infrared radiation from animals in humans that are only one meter away. This organ is how they see the image of prey or a predator.
Disclaimer: This is information for entertainment and educational purposes only. Do not approach a wild animal and keep your distance. Only professionals should handle wild animals. Seek professional help immediately if you have been bitten or otherwise harmed. Consult your local wildlife authority for the right advice for your situation and locality.
Do Snakes Have Good Night Vision?
Some snakes can see clearly in the daytime and have adapted to daytime hunting, however, many snakes also have a sense of seeing in the dark.
At night, snakes can see shapes but not details. Because of this poor eyesight, scientists say that it is a product of their evolution as burrowers. They lived in the dark, and they did not have much use for their eyes.
The night vision that some snakes have is infrared. Snakes have pit organs on each side of the head act like night vision goggles. However, these are not eyes but rather a different mechanism by which they can sense infrared light.
Related Article: Can Snakes Whistle?
How do Snakes See in the Dark?
Many snakes have pit organs that detect infrared radiation. Infrared radiation is heat that animals and humans emit.
The pit organs act as a lens, and it forces the radiation from its source to a tiny point in a membrane that allows the snake to essentially detect the body heat of its prey, even when there is no visible light.
One should think of this membrane as a camera film. It records the infrared radiation, and this allows the snake to see an image of the animal.
Once an infrared signal is detected from the pit organ, it triggers neurons to fire. However, this only works for boas, pythons, and Vipers. Other species of snakes have diverse rods and cones in their eyes and are more attuned to seeing visible light the same as humans.
Snakes can also detect light even if they don’t have the pit organ. They have multiple types of visual pigments, like human beings. They can also see animals in color because they have eyes that can process different wavelengths of light.
Do Snakes Like Light or Dark?
Some snakes are diurnal, and some snakes are nocturnal. Diurnal snakes hunt in the daytime, while nocturnal snakes are active at night.
Some snakes prefer the dark because snakes want to avoid the sun’s heat during the day to stay cool. As such, they typically hunt for food at dusk or dawn.
Snakes are cold-blooded animals. Because of this, they need to go out and bask under the sun, as many reptiles do. Basking under the sun helps them maintain their body temperatures.
This is also the reason snake owners have lamps in their terrariums. These heat lamps mimic the snake’s environment in the wild. They turn it on and off to imitate the cycle of the day and night in the wild.
In the wild, it is not unusual to see a snake in the morning. What this means is that it doesn’t matter if the snake is diurnal or nocturnal. Snakes will always find the light so they can bask under the sun and regulate their body temperatures.
Snakes evolved from lizards and still possess four vestigial limbs, making them tetrapods just like modern lizards.
Can Snakes See Something that Does Not Move?
Snakes can see things that do not move. For pit vipers, boas, and pythons, they can detect infrared radiation the same way that humans detect visible light.
Humans, like all other animals, emit heat waves. Therefore, the snakes can detect these heat waves and make out the shape of an animal or a living thing.
Snakes that do not have pit organs can still see things that do not move. Many people advise that one should not move in a snake encounter because they can’t see anything stationary. This is incorrect, all snakes can see in some way, whether by infrared, visible light, or some combination of the two.
The best thing that one can do in a snake encounter is just let the snake go about its way and disappear. To begin with, snakes do not really like any interaction with human beings. They will also respond to other large animals to protect themselves.
You should never approach any snake in the wild. Even non-venomous snakes can be dangerous and should be avoided.
Can Snakes See Color?
Some snakes can see color, while some simply see infrared. Snakes that can see in color have rods and cones in their eyes similar to human beings. Like humans, these rods and cones have receptors made of proteins that detect different wavelengths of visible light.
These proteins react to light, and they are known as opsins. Since snakes have these rods and cones, they can process light the same way that animals and human beings do.
The difference between humans and snakes is that humans are trichromatic. Snakes are dichromatic. What this means is that snakes only see blue and green. Many snakes also have developed a sense of sensitivity to ultraviolet light. Because of this, many snakes can see in low light conditions.
Summary: Can Snakes See in the Dark?
Many snakes have excellent low-light vision. Some can even see better than human beings in the dark because they have developed a sensitivity to infrared radiation as well as visible light.
Some snakes have special abilities. An example of this is the python and the viper. They have heat sensors called pit organs at the sides of their heads. These pit organs process infrared light or heat.
Once the heat enters the speed organ, the snake’s brain processes it and converts it into an image. However, this is not a colored image but rather just a silhouette of red light.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.