Have you ever gazed into your cat’s eyes and realized they look like crocodile eyes? More interestingly, while domestic cats share 96.5% DNA with tigers, their eyes are completely different.
Big cats – like lions and tigers – have round pupils, like us humans. Domestic cats have vertical pupils – like crocodiles, snakes, and frogs. Weird, right?
Vertical pupils allow the eye’s iris to contract (to a tiny little slit) or expand more that round pupils. Scientists have found that animals with vertical pupils are ambush predators – like our domestic cats – and their special pupils provide incredible accuracy of depth and distance. Because of the vertical pupil’s ability to expand and contract, this depth perception remains crazy accurate in any light condition.
But with all the similarities (especially related to hunting) that our cats have with lions and tigers, why don’t big cats also have vertical pupils?
The big theory is size and status. Unlike domestic kitties, lions and tigers are apex predators. Big cats – like humans – have a line of sight that is not low to the ground like domestic cats (or crocodiles and snakes). Our cats are also skilled predators, but they are also prey to larger predators – so every sensory ability they use to hunt is also used for protection.
Our cat’s eyes are really an impressive tool in their hunter’s tool box. Because they are ambush hunters, the depth perception they have because of their vertical pupils is why their surprise pounce is always on target. If you’ve ever been hunted by your little floof, you already know that.