How Well Can Black Bears See?

Black bears are surrounded by a plethora of myths — that they can’t run very fast or climb trees as adults, or that they have poor vision. We’ve already dispelled two of these falsities, so let’s turn another one on its head!

Many people think that because they have such an incredible sense of smell, black bears don’t need to see very well. In actuality, black bears can see just as well as some humans do. Black bears are nearsighted, which allows them clear, sharp vision at close distances. They can also see quite well in color; these two traits allow black bears to forage for food and find tasty morsels like tender grass shoots, nuts, and berries. The tradeoff is that bears aren’t able to distinguish much detail at distances beyond 100 meters, but are more than capable of detecting outlines and movement from afar.

Black bears also have a tapetum lucidum, a reflective membrane at the backs of their eyes that reflects light and passes it through the retina twice. This allows photorecepting rod cells to pick up more light when it’s dark outside, which helps¬†crepuscular¬†bears that are most active around dusk and dawn.

So don’t discount a bear’s eyesight just because it’s a big animal that likes to keep its nose to the ground! A black bear will probably smell you before it sees you, but that doesn’t mean it’s lumbering around in the wild half-blind.

Aaron Huelsman

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