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Infrared cannot be seen with the human eye but can sometimes be felt with our skin. All warm things produce infrared light, and because the body of a mammal releases heat and is warmer than the air around them, they cannot see infrared light.
Some cold-blooded animals evolved to see infrared light, which helps them capture food and avoid predators. They can hunt their prey in low light conditions, evade predators, and navigate their environment. Some of these creatures include snakes, insects, and fish.
Some studies indicate that a few warm-blooded animals may be able to detect light in the infrared spectrum, which we have included in our list. Let’s have a look!
Pits on the face of rattlesnakes include a heat-sensitive membrane that allows them to see thermal radiation. The crafty reptiles are, as a result, shrewd hunters that can capture their prey in the black of night. The Western Diamondback rattlesnake has the keenest eye of them all, with an ability to see infrared light unrivaled by other snakes.
Pit Vipers have pit sensors along their jaw that can detect heat changes. The organs are made up of nerve cells that register the heat on a molecular level, which then warm up the pit sensors and send a signal to the viper’s brain, triggering a response. The viper’s predatory skills do not stop there; it uses the pit sensors together with its eyesight for a more fail-proof awareness to catch its prey.
Pythons are non-venomous snakes that are more brutal in their method of capturing their prey. Once captured, their prey is strangled and crushed, squeezing tighter every time their victim exhales, and is then ready to be swallowed whole. Pythons can detect infrared from the heat emitted by their prey through their organs. The pits allow them to detect heat up to one meter away.
Cottonmouths feature pit organs above their nose, which they use to detect their prey. They share the characteristics with the Pit viper, but the Cottonmouth is much larger. Their prey can be hunted above or below water, and they will lunch on any animal that their infrared can detect. They are nocturnal hunters that generally won’t run from a fight.
Boa Constrictors are strong, heavy-bodied, non-venomous snakes that rely on their infrared vision to hunt their prey at night. They use ambush tactics to capture their prey, which they usually swallow whole.
Copperheads are venomous snakes that also feature infrared detecting pits on either side of their heads. Their coloring and patterns make it easy to hide amongst leaves and soil undetected while they wait to ambush their prey. During spring and autumn, they will eat during the day, but during the summer, they are nocturnal.
Goldfish feature four types of cone cells in their eyes that allow them to detect infrared and ultraviolet light. They can use their infrared vision and amazing sense of smell to detect movement in the water, making it easy to capture their prey. Too much light can be harmful to goldfish; in fact, they need to sleep in darkness to rest their eyes.
Salmon occupies both fresh and saltwater, which is typically a murky environment. They have enhanced retinas that allow them to see infrared light, making it easier to navigate through their murky environment and detect food. Salmon are known to migrate far to mate, and their eyes can change as their environment changes from salty to fresh water. The transition is made possible by transforming vitamin A1 to vitamin A2 using a naturally produced enzyme from the salmon’s body.
The fact that Zebra fish can grow back parts of themselves makes their infrared vision a minor feature among their amazing abilities. They are able can grow back retinal cells which have inspired scientists to investigate treatment for human disease.
Guppies are among the most popular freshwater aquarium species, but many people don’t know about their infrared abilities. They typically live in ponds and streams and eat whatever they can find. They usually search for plant debris, but mosquito larvae are an absolute treat.
The Green Swordtail gets its name from the long, sharp tail fin found only on males. They are freshwater fish adapted to navigate through murky water thanks to their infrared vision. They thrive in freshwater environments.
Piranhas have been made infamous thanks to their sharp, aggressive-looking teeth, but they only live up to their reputation if they haven’t eaten in a long time. They have the rare ability to change the proteins and vitamins in their eyes to use their infrared vision.
Like a few other fish, tilapia use their infrared vision to navigate through murky waters. They also use it to escape predators that live amongst them.
Cichlids can be found worldwide but will vary in appearance from place to place. They are herbivores that use their infrared vision to evade predators that share their waters.
Carps are a well-known fish typically found in ponds and other fresh-water environments. The murky water in their environment makes it easy to hide from predators, and their infrared vision helps them find their way.
Kissing bugs are not as sweet as they sound. They are bloodsucking insects that use thermoreceptors to detect heat from warm-blooded prey. They prey on their victims while they sleep and do not employ a good night kiss but bite their victims instead.
Much like the bloodthirsty kissing bug, mosquitos also use their infrared vision to pick up heat from their next victim. They are infamous for their annoying sounds, their ability to dodge a roll of newspaper, and the intensely itchy bumps they leave behind. They can also are carriers of several life-threatening diseases.
The Blackfire beetle has tiny sensors that detect infrared light, but this ability is used to sense forest fires. Their larvae can only develop on freshly burned trees, and one disaster provides a haven for new life to thrive. They can swiftly get to a forest fire to lay their eggs using their infrared vision.
The Golden Birdwing butterfly has thermoreceptors on its wings and antennae to evade predators. They are one of the largest butterfly species in Asia, making them widely available as prey.
Like the Golden Birdwing butterfly, the Common Rose butterfly has thermoreceptors on its antennae and wings to detect predators. Although beautiful, they don’t taste as appealing as they look and are less desirable to their predators. Predators are forewarned by the butterfly’s specific coloring and patterning, which is so effective that the Mormon butterfly adopts the tactic too.
Don’t be misled by the name of these colorful crustaceans, as they are not shrimp at all. They are a relative known as stomatopods. The Mantis Shrimp features three pseudo-pupils stacked one on top of the other, each containing an independent depth perception that allows them to see infrared and ultraviolet light. They can see the world through 12 hues of color, making their world as colorful and wonderful as they are.
Just their name is enough to make you squirm, but what’s worse is that their infrared vision allows them to detect the heat emitting from your body, making it easy to find their next feast. In one feeding, bedbugs can consume up to seven times their weight in blood! If that’s not enough to unsettle you, an infestation is hard to get rid of, and the bugs can live for months without feeding.
Just in case their name didn’t give it away, Vampire Bats feed on the blood of other animals. They find and catch their prey using pit organs and are one of the few mammals that can detect infrared light. It sounds frightening, but the bats are unlikely to feast on human blood, but they seek the blood of cows, pigs, horses, and birds.
Bullfrogs have an amazing ability to convert vitamin A1 to vitamin A2 in order to see infrared light. They prey on small fish, turtles, other frogs, insects, and small mammals. Their predatory skills are amazing thanks to their ability to see infrared light, to see above and below the surface of the water, and leap up to 10 times the length of their body.
While wolves and other canines like dogs can’t see infrared, their sight is specialized to allow them to see in low light conditions. They also possess the ability to sense the thermal heat of other creatures on the tip of their nose. This combination has led scientists to question whether they are using some type of infrared vision.
Although foxes are mammals, some researchers speculate that they and other nocturnal mammals may detect light on the infrared spectrum.
Several species are adapted to see infrared light for evading enemies, catching prey, navigating environments, and detecting fires. While only cold-blooded animals typically possess the ability to see infrared light, some scientists suggest that a small number of warm-blooded animals can see the light on the infrared spectrum.
Featured Image Credit: Pixabay
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Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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