The color of fox eyes at night is an interesting question. Foxes are primarily nocturnal or crepuscular mammals, meaning they are most active at night or during twilight hours. Their eyes have evolved adaptations to help them see well in low light conditions. While fox eye color in daylight often appears amber, yellow, or a light brown, at night their eyes can take on a different appearance. The tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer of tissue in the eye, causes fox eyes to glow when light shines into them. This helps foxes see better in darkness but can also cause their eyes to appear a bright blue-green color at night. The specific color of a fox’s eyeshine depends on the wavelength of light reflecting back.
Tapetum Lucidum Allows Night Vision
The tapetum lucidum, Latin for “carpet of light,” is a layer of tissue behind the retina that reflects visible light back through the retina, increasing the light available to photoreceptor cells. This enhances vision in low light and causes eyeshine. Most carnivores, including foxes, possess a tapetum lucidum as an adaptation for their primarily nocturnal habits. The tissue acts like a mirror, bouncing light that passes through the retina back again, essentially “double exposing” the photoreceptors to the original light. This provides a secondary opportunity for rod and cone cells to absorb photons and become activated by the light.
Eyeshine Color Depends on Light Wavelength
When a flashlight, car headlights, or other light source shines into a fox’s eyes at night from some distance away, the specific color that is reflected back depends on the wavelength of that light. Shorter wavelengths on the blue end of the visible spectrum tend to be reflected back and cause eyeshine to appear blue or green. Longer wavelengths toward the red end can cause eyeshine to look more yellow, orange, or red. Most natural night light like moonlight contains a mixture of wavelengths that give fox eyes a bright greenish-blue glow.
Melanin Content Affects Eye Color
The melanin pigments within the iris itself also influence eye color. Higher amounts of melanin result in darker eye colors. For example, the arctic fox which lives in northern snowy regions often has pale yellow or golden eyes as an adaptation to help them see in the bright environment. Red foxes native to Europe and North America tend to have darker amber/brown eye colors. The amount and type of melanin present impacts how much light an iris absorbs versus reflects back through the tapetum lucidum. More melanin leads to less light reflection and glow.
Fox Eye Anatomy Maximizes Night Vision
In addition to the tapetum lucidum, fox eyes have other adaptations that allow them to see well at night. These include:
- Large corneas and pupils to let in more light.
- A high density of rod photoreceptor cells which function in low light.
- Horizontal slit pupils that can open wide to admit more light but also close nearly shut in bright light to prevent damage.
Together with the tapetum lucidum, these features give foxes excellent nocturnal vision to help them hunt rodents, rabbits, insects, and other prey at night.
Tapetum Lucidum Creates Eyeshine in Other Animals
Foxes are not the only animals to possess eye shine. The tapetum lucidum is relatively common in the animal kingdom, especially among nocturnal predators. Here are some other animals that have glowing eyes at night:
|Animal||Eye Color in Light||Eye Color at Night|
|Cat||Yellow, green, blue||Blue-green|
|Dog||Brown, amber||Yellow, green|
|Wolf||Amber, brown||Yellow, green|
|Raccoon||Green, blue, amber||Yellow, green|
|Deer||Brown, amber||Blue, green|
In summary, the distinct eye shine foxes display at night is due to the reflective tapetum lucidum tissue within their eyes. This adaptation allows foxes and numerous other nocturnal mammals to see better in low light. The specific color of eyeshine depends on the light wavelength being reflected back. Blue-green is the most common fox eye color at night when reflecting natural light from the moon or stars. This glowing eye color helps foxes hunt and function effectively in the darkness.