Yes, most bats have perfectly normal vision and can see well enough during the day to fly around safely. They may well see better than us during the night though.
Aren’t All Bats Blind?
No Bats aren’t blind. There is a common misconception that all bats must be blind because they are famous for using echolocation to find their prey instead of sight. Echolocation is a way to ‘see’ things without using the normal rod and cone system that we humans use for daylight vision. Therefore, we assume that if we can’t see at night – neither can bats. And if they HAD good vision (like us) – surely they would hunt by day (like us)?
Both very anthropomorphic views – and both wrong of course. Bats do have normal mammalian eyes and can see perfectly well with them – but choose a better way to catch prey. Also, their prey is active at night – so they couldn’t hunt them during the day even if they wanted to.
However, the question of can bats see well also depends on a few other things – one of which being: what is the actual definition of ‘see’?
If seeing is defined as viewing things through standard mammalian eyes using the natural daylight spectrum of colors – then bats can do this. Bats also have an improved version of seeing though. Using their ears instead of eyes – and using reflected sound instead of light – they can still identify things in the same way. They are ‘seeing’ things in front of them using just their mind.
It sounds crazy, right – but obviously, it must be true as bats can fly in complete darkness and still catch prey mid-air – all night, every night. It is just like an advanced form of finding the next chip in your bag using just your fingers?
How Can Bats See In The Day?
Bats see during the day in exactly the same way as humans do. Light hits the receptors in the eye and an image is formed through nerve impulses to the brain. Easy.
Seeing during the daylight hours is essential for humans due to the way our eyes have specialized. It is also required because we have evolved to socialize and feed during that same time frame of ‘day’. When this bright full-spectrum light starts to fade, we lose some of our clarity and can’t see as well. This is fine as we go to sleep at night anyway.
Bats are the same in that they see with their eyes using daylight – and can fly, roost, and avoid predators during the day using them. However, bats have a slightly different combination of cells in their eyes so can see much more than we can in low light – perfect because this is when they wake up.
How Can Bats See Well At Night?
Bats see well at night in two ways – one with their specialized eyes – and one with their specialized ears.
Eyes are made up of cone cells (which love full sunlight) and rod cells (which can see well in low light levels). Bats have evolved to have many more rod cells than cone cells – so from dusk until dawn, they can see very well indeed. Perfect for catching their favorite foods.
However, their other way of seeing – echolocation – is even better. This allows bats to see much further than their own eyes can see – and it’s in 3D.
They can map out the whole landscape for some distance using their amazing system of clicks and pings. By sending out a soundwave and listening for it to bounce back to their hyper-sensitive ears – they can tell how close a wall or tree is. And most importantly – they can tell which direction their lunch is flying in.
So if your interpretation of ‘see’ includes any way of knowing where you are – and where your dinner is – then bats can see very well at night.
Do Bats Ever Fly Into Something?
In the same way that humans who are in perfect health and who are paying attention – we don’t walk into things. Lose our ability to see, become tired or ill, and yes, we can accidentally hit a wall or walk into a door. Same with bats.
Only bats that aren’t in perfect health would ever fly into something – and it could be both in the day or the night – using either senses. Diseased bats often become disoriented or clumsy – so seeing a bat flying into something could be a sign of illness rather than poor vision.
We all have the odd slip up though?