Our cold-blooded friends have many impressive characteristics, from the Nile Crocodile being able to adapt to life in caves to the chameleon changing colour to match its surroundings. But as a whole, how impressive the vision capabilities of reptiles?

Reptiles’ activity during the day and their sleeping at night categorises them as diurnal animals. That said, their vision has evolved over thousands of years to be adapted to daylight conditions (as it’s this time of day they need their eyesight most).

Colour vision

The reptiles’ ability to see colour is far better than in amphibians and other common mammals. This is most likely due to their daytime activity and their changing surroundings.

Lizards: an impressive reptile

Lizards have incredibly deep colour perception, which is down to the importance for it to locate and catch prey and also for communication, particularly for chameleons. Many lizards rely a great deal on body language, and will often adopt particular positions to give off specific messages.

Anoles, a lizard with an extended dewlap (or beck area), also have patterns on their backs which are only visible under UV light, another impressive characteristic of their appearance.

Turtles, tortoises and terrapins

When casually swimming in shallow waters, turtles submerge their whole body underwater – all except for their eyes and ears. Snapping turtles have eyes on the top of their heads which are closer together than those of other turtles. Sea turtles have tear ducts next to their eyes which can rid the body of excess salt that is taken in when they swim in the ocean.

Turtles have exceptional night vision which is due to the vast amount of rod cells that are housed in their retinas. Their colour vision is also impressive, and they can see anything from near UV to red.

Land turtles don’t have overly impressive ability to focus on moving prey, but this generally isn’t needed as they are slow moving animals. Sea turtles however have better movement pursuit abilities and can snap their beaks quickly to catch prey.


Our slippery friends don’t have overly good vision, and often rely on heat sensing to catch their prey. In particular, pit vipers, boa constrictors and pythons have well developed heat sensitive pads next to their eyes. This allows the snake to completely engulf prey in complete darkness, just by sensing body heat.

Amy writes about eyesight and eye conditions for Direct Sight, a leading online provider of glasses and sunglasses including varifocals.