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Are Skunks Blind? (Can They See in Dark?)

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Skunks have no issues perceiving sound and smell; they hear and smell pretty well. However, their vision is way below impressive. But does this mean they are blind?

Are skunks blind?

At birth, skunks are blind. In fact, besides being blind at birth, they are also deaf. But as they grow older, their eyes and ears develop and start functioning. But while their sense of hearing becomes pretty good at maturity, their vision remains limited.

Go over the rest of this article to understand the limitations of the vision of skunks. We’ll also discuss if skunks can see in the dark.

Skunk Eyesight

Skunks are only truly blind at birth. When they are around 3 weeks old, they open their eyes. When they do, their eyesight starts developing and functioning.

However, even when fully developed, the vision of a skunk is far from impressive. So, you could say they are almost blind even when they can see.

The depth, color range, and visual acuity of a skunk pales in comparison to those of humans. However, it is worth mentioning that skunks see better at night or in low light conditions than in the day. In other words, they are more sensitive to changes in light intensity. This is unsurprising since they are nocturnal foragers.

Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) Walks in the garden

How Far Can Skunks See?

A skunk cannot see as far as humans can. Skunks typically only see within a distance of 10 feet. Anything outside 10 feet is beyond their scope of vision.

To put things in perspective, humans can see objects miles away. Since 1 mile equals 5280 feet, humans see hundreds of times farther than skunks.

Since skunks cannot see very far, they may startle easily. Their inability to see far distances would ordinarily leave them open to attacks by predators. But thanks to their spray, they ward off and warn any animal lurking around.

All in all, since skunks typically forage at night, they do not need to see far. Especially since their ears and nose make up for the visual shortcomings. Besides not seeing far, the things skunks see are not very detailed.

Skunks have relatively small eyes; this may be one reason their vision is far from top-notch. Nonetheless, their pupils are comparatively large; this may be why they readily adjust to low light conditions.

The retina of skunks has many rod cells. Rod cells are photoreceptor cells, which are sensitive to light intensity. Rod cells promote vision in low light. So, since skunks have a lot of them in their retina, they see better in the dark.

Besides their rod cell density, Tapetum lucidum heightens night vision in skunks. The Tapetum lucidum is a thin reflective layer behind the iris of a skunk.

Unlike human eyes, which absorb light at night, the Tapetum lucidum reflects light. By reflecting light, it provides extra illumination, allowing them to see better.

At night, when bright light shines into the eyes of a skunk, they take on an amber color. This phenomenon stems from the Tapetum lucidum reflecting the incoming light. The phenomenon is called eyeshine, and it is common amongst nocturnal predators.

What Colors Can Skunks See?

Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) walking in the garden

As with the other parts of their vision, skunks can only perceive a limited range of colors. But contrary to popular belief, skunks are not monochromatic. In other words, they can see beyond black and white.

Skunks are dichromatic. In other words, they can only perceive colors in shades of blue and green and a combination of blue and green. They cannot perceive reds.

Unlike skunks, humans are trichromatic. So, we can perceive shades of red, green, and blue. We can also see any combination of blue, green, and red.

The relatively poor color vision of skunks is, in part, due to their nocturnality. Since these little mammals are more active at night and dawn, they do not really need to see colors.

Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) Stands Up on Back Paws Autumn

How Do Skunks Survive With Their Limited Vision?

Since skunks have limited vision, you might think they will be prone to attacks by predators. One may also conclude that their limited vision will affect their ability to search for food. But none of this is true.

While it is true that skunks do not have the best vision, they make up for their visual shortcomings with their sharp sense of smell and hearing.

Skunks have a better sense of smell than humans. So, their sense of smell coupled with their hearing helps them find food with ease. These senses also help them detect possible threats. And when they sense a potential predator, they spray in its direction.

You may be wondering why the smell of skunk spray does not affect skunks. The truth is, skunk spray is also repulsive to skunks (thanks to their keen sense of smell). But they rarely ever get skunk spray on themselves, and even when they do, they can sort it out.

Final Take

Skunks are only blind for around 3 weeks after birth. After this period, their eyes start functioning.

However, even when their eyes are functional, they have a limited ability to see. Thankfully, the senses of smell and hearing of skunks are sharp, so they make up for the visual limitations.


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