Cats’ Unique Evolutionary Adaptions

How they have evolved to be amazing hunters

Cats have stereovision, according to a recent Psychology Today blog by Daniel Graham, Ph.D., associate professor of psychological science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. When a cat spots a mouse, the images from each eye head to the vision center in the brain. Here, the brain compares the information from both sides. Then a 3D map is constructed to allow your cat to pounce precisely where that mouse is sitting.

Your cat’s eyes also have an amazing ability to adjust to different lighting conditions (particularly low light) by virtue of their vertical slit pupils, which constrict to let much less light into the eye during periods of high light and expand dramatically under low-light conditions to allow more light to reach their retinas. Cats’ retinas also have a high concentration of rod photoreceptors, which allows them to see well under low-light conditions. Finally, cats have a specialized region of  tissue at the back of their eyes, called the tapetum lucidum, that reflects light to the retina, allowing them to optimize any light available for vision. These adaptations allow cats to see extremely well under the low-light conditions, like at dawn and dusk, which is when they have evolved hunt.

Cats have undergone other evolutionary adaptations related to their roles as elite predators and obligate carnivores, including an extremely acute sense of hearing, a lack of taste buds that detect sweetness (their prey does not taste sweet), retractable claws (so they can stalk quietly), and whiskers, which allow them to gauge whether they can fit through tight spaces and to detect small prey during hunting.

So, your cat doesn’t need a nightlight (except elderly cats who may benefit) and are is not tempted to get up from her spot by a sweet treat, but a piece of steak may draw her from her hiding place. Dr. Graham concluded his blog saying, “Cats remain an enigma, which may be part of their appeal. But understanding their sensory world can bring us closer to them.” We couldn’t agree more.