Why Humans Can't See Well in Dim Light

 Discover the intriguing reason behind humans' low visibility in dim light, despite possessing more rod cells than cats.

Why human can not see in dim light

Why Humans Can't See Well in Dim Light Inspite of Having More no of Rod cells than Cat

The human eye is the most vital sensory organ that allows us to perceive the world around us. One of its remarkable features is the presence of rod and cone cells, which are responsible for vision in different lighting conditions. Rod cells, in particular, are specialized for low-light conditions, making them essential for night vision. Interestingly, humans have more rod cells in their eyes than cats, known for their excellent night vision. So, why is it that humans struggle to see well in dim light, while cats thrive in such conditions? In this article, we delve into the intricacies of vision biology to understand this perplexing phenomenon.

1. Understanding Rod Cells And Night Vision

Rod cell profile in human eye
Rod Cell Profile in Human Eye

Before delving into the differences between humans and cats, let's understand the role of rod cells in night vision. Rod cells are photoreceptor cells in the retina that are highly sensitive to light. They function optimally in dim lighting conditions and are primarily responsible for detecting motion and shapes, especially in low-light environments. Cone cells, on the other hand, are responsible for color perception and work best in bright light.

2. Comparing Rod Cell Density: Humans vs. Cats

Rod Cell density in human eye
Comparison Of Rod Cell Density

It is a widely-known fact that cats are known for their exceptional night vision. However, humans surprisingly possess a greater number of rod cells in their eyes compared to cats. On average, humans have approximately 120 million rod cells, while cats have around 40 million. This stark difference in rod cell density should theoretically give humans the upper hand when it comes to seeing in dim light. Yet, this is not the case.

3. The Role of the Tapetum Lucidum

The key reason for cats' superior night vision lies in a specialized structure called the tapetum lucidum, which is absent in humans. The tapetum lucidum is a reflective layer situated behind the retina in the eyes of cats and some other nocturnal animals. This layer bounces incoming light back through the retina, giving photoreceptor cells (both rods and cones) a second chance to detect the light, thereby enhancing their sensitivity in low-light conditions.

4. Absence of Tapetum Lucidum in Humans

Unlike cats, humans do not possess a tapetum lucidum in their eyes. Consequently, the light that enters the human eye gets absorbed or scattered within the retina. This leads to a lower overall sensitivity to dim light and a decreased ability to detect weak visual signals at night.

5. Cone Dominance in Humans

Another factor contributing to humans' poorer night vision is the dominance of cone cells in our retinas. While rods outnumber cones, it is essential to note that the density of cones is significantly higher in the central region of the retina, known as the fovea. The fovea is responsible for detailed and high-resolution vision, which is ideal for daylight conditions.

6. Adaptation to Diurnal Living

The differences in night vision capabilities between humans and cats can also be attributed to their evolutionary history and lifestyles. Cats, as natural predators, are nocturnal hunters and have evolved to thrive in low-light environments. Their tapetum lucidum and high proportion of rod cells enable them to detect even the slightest movements of potential prey at night.

In contrast, human ancestors have predominantly been diurnal (active during the day). Over time, humans relied less on night vision and more on color perception and high-resolution vision to survive in well-lit environments.

7. Impact of Artificial Lighting

The presence of artificial lighting in modern human societies has further diminished the importance of night vision. With widespread access to artificial light sources, humans have become less reliant on their night vision abilities. As a result, the natural adaptation that once favored enhanced night vision has been less significant in recent human evolution.


While humans possess a greater number of rod cells than cats, the lack of a tapetum lucidum and the dominance of cone cells in the central retina significantly impact their night vision capabilities. Cats' ability to see well in dim light can be attributed to their evolutionary adaptations as nocturnal hunters, whereas humans have evolved to excel in daylight conditions. The marvel of vision biology continues to intrigue scientists, and the comparison between humans and cats serves as a fascinating example of how subtle differences in eye anatomy can lead to significant variations in visual abilities. So, the next time you find yourself struggling to see in the dark, remember that even with more rod cells, humans are simply not built for 

night vision like our feline friends.

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