Why Animals Eyes Glow at Night & Stalked by a Cougar Story

I’ve seen glowing eyes just like this photo, lurking from behind a log, and the cougar was only 10 steps away from me.  The worst part, was that I was snuggly tucked inside my mummy sleeping bag, making my quick escape plan look more like peeling off a sticky wetsuit.  There was no chance a “dash to the house” would work.  I took a deep, calming breath.  I couldn’t risk sending out a twinge of fear to such a predator.  I ever so slowly reached for my knife, which thankfully I always lay beside my head and with stomach muscles clenched did a painful, 10 second sit-up.  I wasn’t going out laying on my back like a cockroach, but I also didn’t want to send out vibes of aggression.  I’ve felt the sharpness of cougar claws and I wasn’t about to pick a fight with those deadly shredders.  With my headlamp held straight on those glowing eyes, I mustered up the courage and the fierce, stern energy to demand that cat to leave.  I thought my voice might startle the big cat, so in my head I declared, “Get up that trail to the forest RIGHT NOW!”  His head slightly cocked to the right.  I continued, “Get outta here.”  “This is not Your place.”  Get up that hill NOW.”

He slowly stood up.  He was long, muscular and immensely powerful looking.  I couldn’t help but stare in awe of such a magnificent animal.  He took a step towards the hillside, his head twisted to keep his eyes locked on me.  I continued my internal dialogue.  By his third step, I no longer could see the eerie glow of his eyeshine.  I kept the light on him until he was out of sight, then I jumped up and out of my sleeping back in world record time, flung open the door and slammed it shut.  I was ALIVE!  I ran to the front door to see if I could see him and just before I twisted the doorknob, I paused.  Suddenly, I was shot with an instant of knowing.  These moments should never be ignored. I took my hand off the knob.  I heard a part of me say, “Hell No, don’t open that, look through the bedroom window first.”  A mountain lion face flashed in my mind’s eye. I bolted upstairs and saw nothing.

The next day my pup Cricket and I tracked the cat from the log it crouched behind.  It did walk onto my back porch, down the stairs and along my walkway, all the way to my neighbors front yard and back into the forest.  Wherever my little dog is chasing frisbees now, I send her my heartfelt love and gratitude for saving my life that night.  It was Cricket’s soft growling I heard in my dream that woke me.  She was sitting up in our sleeping bag staring out into the blackness of the night, warning me of the cat that only she could see and no doubt smell.  I miss you Cricketita One Kenobie.

Many animals, especially nocturnal ones, have a special reflective tissue behind their retinas called the tapetum lucidum, which helps them to see better at night.  When light enters the eye it becomes focussed on the retina and the photo-receptor cells, like cones (allows us see color) and rods (helps us see in dim light).  The retina acts like film, recording the images formed by the lens and then transmitting the information to the brain.  When the small amount of light coming in at night does not hit a photoreceptor, the tapetum acts like a mirror and bounces it back, giving the eyes a second chance to absorb the light.  This specialized tissue gives animals the eyeshine we see when our flashlights or headlights beam on them.

Not every animal has irridescent, glowing eyes though, nor do they glow with the same color either.  Pigs, daytime squirrels, kangaroos, some of the primates and of course humans, only have red, shining eyes when captured on film by the flash, and that’s only because it’s picking up the blood vessels in our eyes.  Glowing eyes can be red, green, yellow, blue and beautiful shades in between, due to age, pigments in the retina and the different substances found in the tapetum itself, like zinc and riboflavin.

It’s a blessing that the predators out here have spooky, glowing eyes because otherwise we’d probably bump right into them when walking around here at night.  I don’t leave my house, even to get a stick of firewood, without a knife in my other hand.  I leave the dark of the night, as much as I can, to my forest friends.

If you haven’t seen it already, check out the video I posted on my youtube channel Becoming Wild for another eyeshine animal encounter I had while camping.  If you want to subscribe to my channel click here.

 

 

 

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