Studies suggest that bears most likely see about as well as humans, yet trust their sense of odor more

There are a the majority of misconceptions around bears. “Grizzly bears can’t climb trees,” or “bears can’t operation downhill” – both untrue. One common misconception is that bears have poor eyesight. The reasons behind this misconception are understandable, yet evidence suggests that bears’ eyesight is comparable to ours. “From my experience bears can see very well in ~ a distance, at least as well as humans,” claimed biologist bother Reynolds.

You are watching: What color are bears eyes at night

Reynolds is a bear biologist for the department of Fish and also Game in Fairbanks and also serves together president the the worldwide Association because that Bear Research and Management. He’s functioned with bears because that 45 years. Reynolds and another biologist when observed a huge adult masculine grizzly that had actually killed and also was eat a 2-year-old grizzly in the western Brooks Range.

“It to be late September and the ground was snow-covered when we peeked simply our heads over a ridge that was a quarter-mile far-off from the bears,” that said. “The adult male instantly stopped what he was doing, stared our direction, and also ran – and also kept on running till he was out of sight. If there was a wind that was only slight, and also I don"t recall it being at our backs. Us were an extremely aware the bears’ extremely perceptive sense of smell, yet from the evidence easily accessible to united state at the time, it seemed most most likely that the bear to be alerted by its eyesight.”

Zookeeper Lee Huntsman operates a privately owned animal park just south of Cleveland, Ohio. He has actually 240 animals – 60 different species – consisting of black bears and also Syrian bears, a sort of asian grizzly. He’s functioned with 30 different bears end the past 10 years.

“We progressive them indigenous babies, and when they watch a certain person, lock react in different ways than they do to an additional person,” Huntsman said. “They respond to the world that feeding them, and not others. And also it’s not that they view the feeding bucket, they identify the people. They deserve to see in detail. They have great vision, and also I’d speak they have the right to recognize a specific person from 200 feet away.”

Huntsman said bears additionally see fine in low light conditions. “I deserve to go up in ~ night and they deserve to see me plainly; I deserve to tell since of the means they react. I absolutely think they see well at night.”

Like many animals, bears’ eyes have actually a reflective layer referred to as the tapetum lucidum lining the ago of the eyeball. This layer mirrors light earlier through the retina, enabling light to stimulate light-sensitive cells in the retina a 2nd time, thereby improving night vision. This is what provides dogs, cats and also many nocturnal animals that distinct, bright eyeshine when they space flashed with a light at night.

Polar bears have actually special adaptations that assist them to view underwater. Like many other naval mammals, they have a clean inner “eyelid” called a nictitating membrane the protects their eyes and serves as a second lens when they space underwater.

John Hechtel has spent decades observing bears in the wild and also studying behavior, hibernation, and also bear and also human interactions. A state biologist in Palmer, he’s functioned with bears throughout and the Yukon. Hechtel emphasized that just like with people, there is variation among bears.

“How countless humans really have actually 20/20 eyesight? yes sir a remarkable variation, nearsighted or farsighted, and with increasing age, sensory abilities diminish in general. Eyesight has tendency to acquire worse, listening is not so great any more, and it’s probably similar with animals,” the said. “In general, your eyesight – for young healthy and balanced bears – often tends to it is in pretty good. There is a fair amount written around how negative their eyesight is, yet I nothing think so.”

From his experiences, Hechtel has actually the impression that seeing silhouette and movement is an important part the bears’ street vision. Over there isn’t a many research on the subject of bear vision, Hechtel said, and also stories selection from cases where bear see exceptionally well to stories where bears seem virtually blind.

“For now, be affected by each other biologists tend to say that bears’ eyesight is comparable to the of people. That doesn’t median bears basically see the way we do. I suspect, in some means they see better – night vision, because that example, and also in some means maybe worse, choose distant, non-moving objects. The allude is that bears no wandering around half-blind. And they are much more focused on interpreting the world based upon smell 보다 sight.”


Hechtel said many misconceptions around bears space born of limited experience and assumptions. A human being will assume that since a bear no respond come them, it didn’t know they were there. The bear may have actually smelled the human – and also saw castle – long before the human being was mindful of the bear.

“A many times bears check out things and also don’t visibly reaction by standing increase or fleeing,” Hechtel said. “That doesn’t median it didn’t see. Human being expect bears to react when they watch something, and that’s not always the case.”

Biologists stress and anxiety that by far, bears’ keenest feeling is their sense of smell. Hechtel said even when a be affected by each other does acquire a great look at something, the still likes to test it v its nose. Hechtel thinks that’s added to the misconception about bears’ eyesight. Bears are so fine informed around their environment because of their feeling of smell that they don’t appear to put much emphasis on their vision. Bear trust your noses more than your eyes, simply as humans trust their vision more than their feeling of smell.

“We rely so lot on our eyes,” claimed state video game biologist Phil Mooney of Sitka. “I nothing think bears think favor we do. They don’t think in regards to their eyes. If you’re walking v grass flats and a be affected by each other stands up, that using all of its senses.”

Larry Aumiller is the manager the the McNeil flow State game Sanctuary. Because that 28 years, he’s spent summers through brown bear at the sanctuary, 180 miles southwest the Anchorage. That recalled an incident one spring wherein a huge adult masculine was following a female in estrus.

Aumiller wrote: “He to be trying to store up with her till she to be receptive. She, not being quite ready, to be trying to stay ahead of him. This is dubbed consorting, and also eventually ends in mating when all parties are ready. The male commonly puts his sleep to the ground, and no issue what, follows her exact footsteps. On today her journey took she on a path that double back, bringing she to within 100 feet the the follow male. That glanced end at her, put his nose ago to the ground and also continued top top her specific trail (scent) even though it take it him number of hundred yards out of his way. This is a an excellent example the a be affected by each other trusting his sense of smell much more than his vision.”

In Aumiller’s experience, he thinks bears view on a par with people up to around 120 yards, and beyond the their vision drops off. He’s uncovered it’s basic to stalk a be afflicted with at much longer distances, especially if you space careful about using cover and disguising movement.

“You can technique a be affected by each other at distances that would never ever work with a food species, for instance a deer. This makes sense if you think around it, the “distance of concern” for a bear is significantly less than 100 yards. Bears have evolved to be pertained to only with - and also react come - stimuli within their an individual space, which varies of course (smaller for much more dominate bears) yet is generally about 100 come 200 yards. This fits with being a predator as opposed to a prey species, and being the biggest, baddest guy on the block.”

“They deserve to see an extremely well at night, far better than humans,” that added. “Remember the exemption of course, the bear that spotted you at 400 yards, and the one you walked appropriate up to in the open - and at 40 feet it finally did check out you and also came unglued. However these space rare exceptions.”

Hechtel said over time, ours insights have to get better as scientists attend to some that the unanswered questions regarding bear vision.

See more: How To Say Dark In French - Stygian, Umbra, And Other Darkness Words

“Who knows specifically what bears room seeing,” Hechtel said. “The exciting thing around studying bear is it’s a fairly new field. The expectancy of extreme bear study has actually just to be a couple of decades. There room still a most cool points to understand about bears.”

Subscribe come be educated about brand-new issues

Receive a monthly notification about brand-new issues and also articles.