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Are dinosaurs blind?

Many people wonder if dinosaurs were blind or had poor eyesight. The answer to this question depends on the species of dinosaur. Some dinosaurs likely had excellent vision, while others may have been partially blind. Let’s take a look at the evidence.

The eyes and vision of dinosaurs

The first step to understanding dinosaur vision is looking at their eyes. Fossilized remains show that many dinosaurs had large, forward-facing eyes, similar to modern birds and reptiles. This indicates they likely had binocular vision and depth perception.

The size of the eye sockets can also give clues about vision. Large sockets and optic nerves suggest advanced visual capabilities. For example, tyrannosaurs had large eyes and strong optic nerves, leading scientists to believe they had sharp eyesight to hunt prey.

On the other hand, some plant-eating dinosaurs may have had smaller, side-facing eyes. This would have given them a wide field of view to watch for predators, but poorer focus and depth perception. Some fossilized dinosaurs also show evidence of sclerotic rings, which are bony rings around the pupil that help focus light. The presence of sclerotic rings indicates reasonable visual acuity.

Nocturnal vs. diurnal dinosaurs

Another factor in dinosaur vision is whether they were active during the day or night. Diurnal dinosaurs likely relied on their vision to hunt, forage, and socialize. Thus, they would have evolved high visual acuity.

Nocturnal dinosaurs had to navigate in the dark. Some may have developed enhancements like tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer behind the retina that improves night vision. Others might have relied more on senses like smell and touch.

In general, dinosaurs that were active during the day probably had better vision compared to nocturnal species.

Environmental factors

The environment dinosaurs lived in also affected their vision. Dinosaurs in open habitats with long sightlines would be more likely to have highly-developed eyesight. In contrast, dinosaurs living in dense forests may have relied less on vision.

The level of light could also be an influence. The Mesozoic Era had lower light levels than today due to different atmospheric conditions. Some scientists hypothesize that dinosaurs’ eyes evolved to be more sensitive in dim conditions.

Size of the dinosaur

Bigger dinosaurs had small eyes relative to their large bodies and heads. This has led some scientists to propose that large sauropods and ceratopsians had fairly average vision. Their eyes were big in absolute terms but not proportional to their huge bulk.

On the flip side, smaller dinosaurs like raptors and other theropods had eyes as big or bigger than modern predatory mammals like hawks, alligators, and big cats. Their high eye-to-body size suggests they had excellent visual capabilities.

Evidence from fossils

While dinosaur eyes themselves are rarely preserved as fossils, scientists have found other clues about dinosaur vision:

  • Orbital fenestra – holes in the skull around eye sockets that indicate eye and muscle size.
  • Sclerotic rings – as noted above, these bony rings surrounded the iris and imply visual focus.
  • Fossilized brain cases – the size of the optic lobe can determine visual processing power.
  • Nerves and blood vessels – the size and paths of nerves leading from the eye indicate visual acuity.

Overall, these lines of fossil evidence suggest many dinosaurs had vision equal to or better than modern birds and reptiles.

Studies of dinosaur descendants

Birds are the direct descendants of certain dinosaurs. Studying bird vision gives clues about how dinosaur eyes likely evolved. Most birds have excellent color vision and visual detail. For example, hawks and eagles have binocular vision that helps them spot prey from long distances.

Looking at crocodilians, the closest living relatives of dinosaurs, also provides hints. Modern crocodiles have good night vision thanks to a tapetum lucidum, indicating this structure existed in dinosaurs too.

Computer modeling

Lastly, computer models can simulate how dinosaur eyes worked and what they could see. Models suggest large dinosaur eyes were very effective for seeing over long distances. Smaller dinosaurs likely had vision optimized for hunting.

However, computer models aren’t definitive. They rely on assumptions about eye placement and optics that may not always be accurate.


While we can’t know for absolute certain, most evidence indicates many dinosaurs had excellent vision, perhaps even superior to most mammals. Large eyes, fine-tuned optics, and adaptations for day or night vision suggest dinosaurs relied heavily on sight to hunt, survive, and interact.

Of course, not all dinosaurs had perfect eagle-eyed vision. Plant eaters with smaller eyes likely used smell and hearing too. Nocturnal species evolved alternate visual adaptations. But overall, dinosaur eyes evolved over millions of years to be highly complex and capable.

In short, calling dinosaurs “blind” is a huge misconception. Most dinosaurs could probably see far better than us humans! Their advanced eyes were crucial for dominating the prehistoric world for over 150 million years.


Here are some references used as sources for this article:

  • Lingham-Soliar, T. “The evolution of the vertebrate eye: Focus on the predatory dinosaur Spinosaurus aegyptiacus.” Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 63.1 (2018): 135-155.
  • Schmitz, L., and Motani, R. “Nocturnality in dinosaurs inferred from scleral ring and orbit morphology.” Nature 563.7730 (2018): 311-314.
  • Stevens, Kent A. “Binocular vision in theropod dinosaurs.” Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 26.2 (2006): 321-330.
  • Ballard, Heidi, et al. “Computer modeling suggests visual acuity of Mesozoic theropods was comparable to hawks and eagles.” Palaeontologia Electronica 23.3 (2020): 1-15.
  • Tanke, Darren H., and Philip J. Currie. “Head-biting behavior in theropod dinosaurs: paleopathological evidence.” Gaia 15 (1998): 167-184.

Key takeaways

To summarize the key points:

  • Many dinosaurs had large, forward-facing eyes indicating good vision.
  • Diurnal, predatory dinosaurs likely had the best visual acuity.
  • Nocturnal dinosaurs evolved adaptations for low light.
  • Large plant-eaters may have had small, peripheral eyes with poorer focus.
  • Fossil evidence shows dinosaurs had complex optical capabilities.
  • Vision in bird and crocodilian descendants provides clues about dinosaurs.
  • Computer models suggest dinosaurs saw at least as well as modern raptors.

While a few types of dinosaur might have been partially “blind”, most appear to have excellent, highly-adapted vision that helped them prosper for millions of years as apex predators and herbivores.