Can Penguins See In The Dark? (Answered)

by Chukay Alex
Updated on

Penguins are a slightly peculiar species of bird in that they look and act differently from other birds.

Penguins spend a lot of time underwater and can dive to deep lengths underwater however they always return to land before it’s dark. 

Scientists have wondered if penguins can see in the dark and the answer is yes. Penguins usually dive and hunt for fish and krill under the ocean. The lighting at those depths can be as dark ashore.

This article will discuss penguins’ sight, the colors they can see, if they have better eyesight than humans and a few other issues. 

Can Penguins See At Night?

Can Penguins See In The Dark

Penguins are diurnal animals who spend their day catching krill and other fishes in waters around them such as the Adelie and Emperor penguin species.

 At night they are not usually active and by dusk they are seen heading back to their homes on the shore.

This has led researchers to wonder whether or not penguins can see at night. 

Most researchers naturally thought penguins had a bad nighttime vision, which was why they preferred to remain ashore after dusk despite their food being easiest to catch after dark.

New research however has shown that penguins can see perfectly well at night as they usually try to avoid predators such as sharks, killer whales and large seals.

Adelie penguins used in the study hunted for fish at depths where the light was akin to nighttime. 

This showed that the birds could see at night but would rather be at home by early dusk to avoid being eaten.

Related: Here is an article I wrote on can penguins move their eyes

What Do Penguins Do At Night?

Penguins after spending their day catching fish, having fun, preening and taking care of their young spend their nighttime sleeping.

Penguins are not nocturnal animals, they are diurnal in nature i.e. they are active during the day and sleep at night. 

Penguins however do not sleep long nights like humans. They take a lot of short naps throughout the whole day including at night.

This is due to the fear of predators such as the Galapagos shark. They sleep in short bursts like most birds and also have their safety in numbers.

During the long winters in the Antarctic for example, male penguins spend most of their time sleeping.

They can sleep 20 out of 24 hours in the day as they tend to eat less when they are sleeping.

Some penguins can be seen standing up with their heads tucked into their wings, they can also sleep on their bellies if it’s not during the cold season.

Can Penguins See In Color?

Penguins see the world differently from the way humans do. Penguins have been discovered to be able to see the colors humans do and also in ultraviolet vision.

This means that these birds can see a wider range of colors far more than what humans can see. 

Penguins can see in color and are sensitive to violet, blue, and green wavelengths of light, as well as possibly ultraviolet light.

This sensitivity to colors and ultraviolet vision helps them to see their way underwater.

Penguins are one of the best divers of the marine world and they can go as far as 1,500 feet underwater while hunting for food.

How Do Penguins See Clearly Underwater?

Penguins spend most of their life on and in water and only come ashore to breed and raise their chicks before they go in the water again.

Penguins are amazing scuba divas and an emperor penguin can go as far 1,500 feet in water without scuba diving gear.

Scientists have wondered how these birds are able to see perfectly under the water at those depths.

Penguins have corneas which are much flatter than those of humans, and this helps to allow the lens to carry out the process of focusing.

A penguin’s eye underwater should be able to change the shape of the lens dramatically in order to form a sharp image. 

In contrast to this, humans have round corneas which makes underwater vision very blurry without the use of goggles. 

Also check out this article I wrote on can penguins eat vegetables

Do Penguins Have Eyesights Like Humans?

Human and penguin eyesight are not the same as our eyes are each adapted for various uses.

Penguins spend a lot of time both on land and underwater, as a result their eyes have been adapted for them to be able to see clearly in the ocean.

Apart from hunting for food, penguins also require sharp underwater vision to be on the lookout for predators such as sharks and whales that lurk in the depths they frequent.

Penguins have a flattened cornea that deflects light less strongly than either human or even fish corneas.

The strong muscles in their eye change the shape of their eye lens to create a sharp and clear image when in water. 

Also penguins have a third eyelid which is known as the nictitating membrane.

This nictitating membrane helps to protect their eyes from any debris they might encounter underwater.

These adaptations are what gives the penguins superb vision underwater and differentiate their eyesight from those of humans. 

How Good Is A Penguin’s Vision

When it comes to underwater vision, the penguins definitely get an award for being one of the best.

As birds, they have quite the adapted vision which enables them to see clearly not only on land but in underwater depths in the vision.

Penguins are known to go as far as 1,500 feet deep in the ocean with a cruising speed of 7-9 mph.

That is quite a feet for the tuxedo colored birds. Their eyesight is topnotch as not only can they see well during the day, they can see in the dark under the water.

In the ocean, the lighting is akin to night in most parts.

Penguins also have ultraviolet vision which enables them to see the underworld in colors that humans can only dream of.

Can Penguins See Better In The Dark Than Humans?

Penguins can see better in the dark than humans as they have eyes that are adapted to see thousands of feet in the dark depths of the ocean.

They spend a majority of their time underwater and as such have adaptations in their eyes that help them see better in the dark.

First off the penguins have flattened corneas which help to focus light on their lens and give them a sharper vision but underwater and on land.

Penguins have also been thought to have ultraviolet vision which helps them see fishes and underwater vegetation in colors that humans cannot see.

Do Penguins Like Any Particular Color?

Penguins are not known to have a preference for a particular color.

Penguins can see the world in color just like humans and also have the added advantage of ultraviolet vision. 

For emperor penguins who have orange-yellowish patches of color on their beaks, those colors have been discovered to have an impact in mate selection and pairing.

Researchers have been able to discover that King penguins are attracted to the colors in each other’s bills, which include some hues which the human eye cannot see.

The birds are known to pair up and stay committed for most of the breeding season. Most pairs that were committed were shown to have had similar colors of beak. 


Penguins can see at night and in the dark even though they prefer to be on shore and in the safety of their colonies by evening or dusk.

Contrary to assumptions that penguins could not see at night, research has shown that these birds can go quite far underwater where the lighting is akin to the early and late evening.

A reason that has been given for the birds early return to land is the fear of predators lurking in the waters.

Penguins have eyes which have flattened corneas that helps refract light and focus on their lens to give them  a sharper view underwater.

Penguins are also believed to have ultraviolet vision and this helps them see hues of color which humans cannot see.

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About the author

Chukay Alex

Chukay is a season writer and farmer who enjoys farming and growing plants in his backyard farm. When he is not farming you can find him at the nearest lawn tennis court, hitting a mean backhand down the line.


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