Have you ever been watching an animal, and it looks like they are seeing a whole world that you have never set eyes on? Maybe your dog suddenly darts a certain direction for some unknown reason, or you see a wild animal scratching at a seemingly empty stretch of dirt. Are they seeing something that you aren’t? Chances are, yes.
Humans often have an anthropogenic view of the world. We see it through our eyes, and often, think that animals do too. Consider how it is so easy to place human emotions on a wild animal. A lion isn’t a top of the food chain predator; it’s Simba’s dad.
Research is increasingly finding that some animals may have emotions and intelligence that we never suspected, however that doesn’t mean they see the world the same way we do – both literally and figuratively. Some animals, like the dog currently sitting on your couch, can see ultraviolet, or UV, light.
UV light is invisible to us. You may feel its affects after a long day at the beach in the form of a sunburn (no, just me?), but other than that we don’t think about it too much. For some animals, though, it is essential to how they navigate the world.
Butterflies were one of the first animals where scientists were able to establish an ability to see UV light. Now we know that they use it to find food, select mates, and, importantly, avoid predation. They may be small, but they are mighty.
Reindeer use UV light to find food, lichen specifically. The arctic is a homogenous landscape most of the year, and UV light helps them find tasty morsels in a blanket of snow. Here’s a thought: maybe Rudolph’s shiny nose is actually reflecting that UV light?
Even some of our favorite furry friends have this special talent. Dogs use UV light to see the urine trails they use to find out information about other dogs. Scientists hypothesize that this ability may also help their wild counterparts hunt prey.
Why can other animals see UV when we can’t? Well, that answer is explained more easily in a video than in a blog post. So check out the one below for the answer! 🙂