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Have you ever wondered if all animals are able to see in the dark? We know owls and other nocturnal animals have the ability to do so. But how about common household pets? This science fair project was conducted to determine if animals are able to see in the dark. Specifically, the experiment was conducted on a dog, a cat and a monkey, to ascertain if they are able to see color in the dark.


Dogs, cats and monkeys are all able to see color in the dark.

Scientific Terms

Night vision, nocturnal, pupils, retina, tapetum, rods, cones


Animals and night vision

Night vision refers to the ability to see in a dark or extremely low-light environment. Humans have very poor or limited night vision. When we wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, we struggle to find the light switch. However, as our eyes gradually adjust to the darkness, we develop limited night vision.

Some animals however, have excellent night vision. Nocturnal animals which are active in the night and sleep in the day, have an evolved and more advanced sense of hearing, smell and sight so that they can effectively find food, hunt and avoid their predators in the dark. The eyes of nocturnal animals have light sensitive receptor cells, called rods, that can be up to 500 times more sensitive than normal receptors (called cones).

Nocturnal animals with improved night vision usually have eyes that are larger (compared to their bodies). These larger eyes enable them to dilate their pupils so that more light enters the eyes, and in so doing enables the animal to have better night vision.

Some nocturnal animals also have eyes that have a reflective membrane called the tapetum lucidum . This membrane helps to conserve light within the eye by reflecting it on the retina before it escapes out of the eye. This allows these animals to have augmented vision in the dark. The shine or glow in the eyes of these animals, such as cats, dogs and deer when light hits their eyes in the dark, is a result of the tapetum lucidum.

Other animals differ in how they are able to effectively see in the dark. Some have folded retinas and others have special lenses.

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Complexity level:
Project cost ($):
Time required:
14 days to prepare, 1 day for observation
Material availability:
You will need access to domesticated, trained animals. The dog and cat won't be a problem, but the monkey will take some effort to locate. Try asking your local zoo to help
Safety concerns:

Treat animals with respect and care - and ensure that they are handled by qualified trainers at all times. Although they may be domesticated, the animals may bite if unexpectedly provoked or agitated