Learn About Lions in the Wild

Frequently Asked Questions about Lions and their plight in the world.

Do lions see colour?

Do lions see colour?

Yes they do. Eyes have two kinds of receptor cells, called rods and cones because of their structure. Rods are mainly responsible for black and white vision, and cones do the colour bit. Human eyes have a predominance of cones – we see colours very well, especially in the red spectrum of light, but consequently we have a problem with night vision no matter how many carrots we eat. Lions have fewer cones so see less colour but have great night vision especially since their eyes also have a membrane that concentrates weak light back to the retina and their pupils are able to enlarge to an extent much bigger than ours.  

Bethannie Rose
19th January 2018 at 20:08

Can lions see in ultraviolet?

Chris Macsween
20th January 2018 at 19:33

Thank you for this very interesting question. The short answer is no.

But ultraviolet vision among mammals in general is a very interesting subject.

Analysis of the visual pigment responsible for UV vision shows that UV vision was likely shared by all vertebrates early on, but that mammals largely lost the capability of synthesizing the pigment during evolution - but birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish mainly maintained it. Mammal vision is therefore largely limited to the "visible" light wavelenghts - violet on the one extreme to red at the other with limited overlap into the ultraviolet and infrared.

An interesting exception was found among some seal species. While, as in all mammals, ultraviolet reception had largely been lost, some seals were able to achieve an interesting evolutionary adaptation by changes made to the tapedum lucidum in their eyes. The tapedum lucidum is a reflective layer behind the retina found in some mammal species - responsible for the "eyeshine" in dogs and cats in flash photography for example. This layer is highly usual in night vision, as the available light is reflected back again through the retina in low light conditions. Some seal species have been shown to possess secondary adaptations to the tapedum lucidum that allows some vision in the ultraviolet range. Speculation is that these seals would therefore be better able to see their white polar bears on the white ice background - and also be able to see their fish prey better givcen low light conditions under the ice....

Thank you again, and please encourage others to ask us questions about all aspects of lions!

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We have also published a number of research papers on lions and lion conservation which you can download for free.