13 Interesting Facts About Octopus Eyes and Vision

Octopus eye up close

Octopus eyes are a gateway to understanding these underwater creatures’ mysterious and intelligent world. It is exciting to figure out how these marvelous creatures utilize their eyes in a unique manner.

This guide will tackle 13 fascinating facts about octopuses’ eyes and their ability to see. Here, we’ll look at how octopuses perceive, interact with, and adapt to their environment.

13 Facts About Octopus Eyes and Their Vision

1. Octopuses might perceive color in a unique way

Octopus eye capture in macro lens

The vibrant underwater world where octopuses live is a kaleidoscope of colors. Interestingly, despite being inhabitants of such a colorful environment, octopuses are technically colorblind. 

They possess only one type of light receptor, which perceives black and white. However, scientists propose a theory that these creatures might perceive color through a mechanism known as chromatic aberration

This involves their uniquely shaped pupils scattering light and focusing different wavelengths on the retina individually. 

Even without conventional color vision, this supposed ability to see color highlights the octopus’ remarkable adaptability.

2. Octopuses can see polarized light

Octopus eye looking sideways

One thing that sets octopuses apart from other creatures in the animal kingdom is their ability to perceive polarized light

Unlike humans and most animals, octopuses can detect the orientation of light waves as they travel through water. 

Imagine light as a bunch of little waves moving in a straight line. Now, octopuses have a superpower: they can see how these light waves are oriented — something most animals can’t do.

This ability to see polarized light not only assists them in communication but also aids in seeing through camouflage. Likewise, it helps enhance contrast in their visual field and possibly aids in distinguishing colors. 

I first learned about this fascinating trait when I stumbled upon a 2012 research about cuttlefish. This study revealed their impressive ability to discern fine differences in polarized light.

As it turns out, octopuses also share a similar mechanism in their vision. 

In another blog, the author looks into the intriguing world of octopuses and cuttlefish, exploring similarities in their vision.

3. Their skin can “see” light

Octopus with visible eyes on white background

Imagine if your skin could “see” or detect light. For octopuses, this is a reality. Opsin molecules, which are sensitive to light, are present not only in octopus eyes but also in their skin. 

This allows their skin to detect light, providing a unique spatial awareness that is not solely dependent on their eyes. 

This light detection through their skin might explain their incredible ability to camouflage. It also explains how they can blend seamlessly with their surroundings that fast.

4. Their eyes resemble human eyes

Octopus eye that resemble human eyes

Despite living in vastly different environments and being diverse beings, octopuses and humans share a striking similarity in eye structure. 

The octopus eye, with its lens, retina, and iris, surprisingly resembles the human eye, showcasing a fascinating example of convergent evolution. 

For starters, convergent evolution refers to the process where organisms from different evolutionary backgrounds develop similar traits or characteristics. 

This phenomenon does not result from common ancestry but from adaptations to similar environmental challenges. 

Watch this video to get a glimpse of octopus eyes as well as the intricate camera setup used to capture the footage:

Insight Into Eyes Part 2: The Incredible Octopus Eye, by David Heidemann

5. Each eye moves independently

Octopus side view

The eyes of an octopus are not just structurally fascinating but also functionally independent. 

Each eye can act autonomously of the other, controlled by its own nerve, and can rotate up to 80 degrees in either direction.

This ability to move each eye independently allows octopuses to observe multiple areas of their environment simultaneously. This provides a broad and dynamic field of view that is handy for hunting and evading predators.

In a 2002 study, researchers investigated the intriguing world of octopus vision. They discovered that these creatures have a peculiar preference for using one eye over the other. 

This appears to be a consistent trait and not a mere random occurrence, with some octopuses favoring the left eye and others the right. 

The study found no significant differences in eye preference between male and female octopuses. However, interestingly, this eye preference exhibits a connection with the creature’s pigmentation. 

This trait is somewhat comparable to a person being left or right-handed.

6. Their pupils always stay horizontal

Octopus with horizontal eyes

An octopus maintains its pupils horizontally, irrespective of its body orientation. This automatic response, controlled by their statocysts, helps maintain balance and orientation. 

Furthermore, this mechanism ensures that their vision remains stable and focused even as they navigate and shift underwater. 

This stability in visual perception is vital in helping them interact with their environment, whether locating prey or identifying safe paths through coral reefs.

7. They focus like a camera

Octopus with an eye staring directly at the camera

Octopuses have a unique focusing mechanism that resembles the workings of a camera or telescope. Instead of altering the shape of their lens to adjust focus, like humans, they move the lens in and out. 

This ability to adjust focus by moving the lens allows them to quickly adapt to moving objects and changing environments. This also lets them keep their vision sharp and clear amidst the water.

8. Octopus vision is expansive

Octopus surrounded by molusks

The wide field of vision of octopuses is another testament to their extraordinary visual capabilities. They can see in almost all directions, ensuring minimal blind spots.

This broad range of sight is notably due to their ability to control each eye individually. 

This trait is vital for monitoring various areas of their environment at once, whether it be identifying potential prey or staying vigilant for predators.

9. Pupils of octopuses adapt to light quickly

Octopus under the sea with eyes closed

In the ever-changing light conditions of the underwater world, the octopus thrives by rapidly adapting its vision. 

The pupils of octopuses can dilate and constrict swiftly, adjusting to various light conditions in a flash. 

This rapid adaptation helps maintain optimal vision and plays a role in their impressive camouflage and threat displays. 

In a 2020 study about octopus pupils, scientists found that the time it takes for an octopus’s pupil to constrict to half its size is between 0.45 and 1.29 seconds when exposed to light. 

While this isn’t as rapid as the shutter speed of high-speed cameras, it is remarkably swift, especially for a biological process that occurs underwater.

10. Their optic lobe has diverse neurons

Octopus in a coral reef

The optic lobe of an octopus, a crucial part of its brain for vision, houses an impressive variety of neurons. Scientists have identified six main types, each with its role in processing visual information. 

But it doesn’t stop there. Further research into the genes of these neurons has revealed even more subtypes, each contributing to how an octopus perceives its surroundings. 

This complexity in their visual brain is interesting because it supports their advanced sight, allowing them to navigate and interact with the underwater world effectively. 

It’s like having a supercomputer in their heads, dedicated to understanding what they see, which is remarkable for an invertebrate creature.

11. Their pupil shapes are varied and unique

Octopus with visible eyes in the sea bed

Imagine having eyes that can change shape according to your environment. Octopuses have this remarkable ability.

Their pupils can be U-shaped, W-shaped, or even resemble a dumbbell, varying across different species.

But why is this interesting? Well, these unique shapes are not just for show. They play a crucial role in how octopuses perceive their underwater world, particularly in interacting with light and, potentially, color. 

Each shape isn’t merely different; it’s a specialized adaptation, offering them a customized visual experience tailored to their specific environments.

12. They see fine details clearly

Octopus with horizontal eyes gliding in the sand

Imagine spotting the smallest details even in the vast and visually busy underwater world. Octopuses do just that with their remarkable visual sharpness. 

Their ability to see fine details isn’t just interesting; it’s vital for their survival. Their vision lets them navigate complex ocean landscapes, spot prey from a distance, and communicate using subtle cues.

A 2020 study, “The Eye of the Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris),” highlighted that octopuses, particularly smaller ones within specific weight ranges, exhibited a visual acuity between 0.6 and 1.1 cycles/degrees. 

This means they can detect certain details within their visual field, although clarity may vary based on factors like size and species. 

For a bit of perspective, a human with standard 20/20 vision can identify objects or letters at 20 feet, a benchmark for “normal” vision. 

Regarding spatial resolution, humans can perceive up to 30 cycles per degree under optimal light conditions, surpassing the octopus’s capabilities from the study.

While octopuses may not perceive fine details as sharply as humans, their vision is adapted to their aquatic environment. This ensures that they can hunt, navigate, and communicate effectively.

13. Their vision significantly shapes their behavior

Octopus in the sea bed

The eyes of an octopus do more than just see; they remember and guide actions, revealing a fascinating link between vision and behavior. 

When an octopus sees something, it doesn’t just observe; it recalls past encounters and adjusts its behavior, color, and even breathing accordingly. 

This isn’t just about survival and camouflage but also a method of communication, with certain colors or patterns signaling different emotions or intentions to other sea creatures.

In other words, the octopus doesn’t simply react to visual stimuli; it remembers, considers, and strategically responds, showcasing a notable connection between its behavior and vision. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Octopus with eyes closed

What Is Unique About Octopus Eyes?

Octopus eyes are fascinatingly similar to human eyes in structure but come with their own set of remarkable abilities. This includes seeing polarized light and potentially seeing color through chromatic aberration. 

Furthermore, they also have distinctively shaped pupils that vary depending on the species. Octopuses can also control their eyes individually, giving them a wide field of vision.

How Many Eyes Does an Octopus Have?

An octopus has two eyes, each capable of moving independently of the other. This provides a wide and dynamic view of their surroundings without moving their bodies.

Can an Octopus See Without Eyes?

Octopuses can “see” or detect light through their skin due to the presence of light-sensitive proteins. Their unique skin offers a secondary means of perceiving their environment on top of their primary eyesight.

What Colors Do Octopuses See?

Despite having only one type of light receptor and being technically colorblind, octopuses can distinguish and respond to certain colors. 

This is possibly through a mechanism involving chromatic aberration and their uniquely shaped pupils.

Do Octopuses Close Their Eyes When They Sleep?

The sleep patterns of octopuses are not fully understood, and while they exhibit sleep-like states, it is unclear whether they close their eyes during these periods due to the limited mobility of their eyelids.

Watch a sleeping octopus and see for yourself:

Final Thoughts

Exploring the underwater world of octopuses has given us a peek into their unique and intriguing vision. 

Their eyes do more than just see — they help them adapt, interact, and survive in their colorful, ever-changing ocean home. 

From their uniquely shaped pupils to their skin’s ability to detect light, octopuses showcase a wonderful example of nature’s adaptability and the cleverness of evolution.

Do you have any comments on this topic? Let us know what you think about octopus eyes and their vision by sharing your thoughts below!

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