Why Do Goats Eyes Have Weird Rectangular Pupils?

Updated on July 28, 2020
Sherry H profile image

Sherry grew up watching her uncle raise turtles, fish, goats, and chickens in his backyard. She brought home a goat last year.

Goats' rectangular pupils are a striking evolutionary adaptation.
Goats' rectangular pupils are a striking evolutionary adaptation. | Source

Goats have horizontal, oval-shaped pupils which become more rectangular in bright light. Goats and many other animals that are likely to be preyed upon in the wild are blessed with this freaky-looking adaptation.

Pupil shapes in animals show a great deal of variety. Some species have pupils that are ovular or slit in a vertical orientation. Researchers have associated shapes of pupils with feeding behaviours and activity cycles of animals.

Some suggest that the herbivores have horizontal pupils, while carnivores have vertical pupils. Others argue that the vertical pupils are a characteristic of nocturnal animals, while horizontally elongated and circular pupils are more common in diurnal species. In this article, we'll explore the top five reasons goats have horizontally oriented, rectangularly shaped pupils.

5 Reasons Goats Have Horizontal Rectangular Pupils

  1. They allow for wide lateral vision.
  2. They allow them to see in several directions at once.
  3. They reduce blur on the horizontal plane.
  4. They allow them to keep their vision parallel to the ground during grazing.
  5. They limit light interference from less-important directions.

1. They Allow for Wide Lateral Vision

Like goats, most animals with rectangular pupils are herbivores. Herbivores are likely to be preyed upon by others, and thus, they must be able to detect potential predators approaching along the ground to avoid capture.

Horizontally elongated pupils that enhance peripheral vision help animals to see further to either side of them. This means that they can potentially see predators approaching from the sides without turning their heads.

"I have excellent peripheral vision. On a good day I can see my ears" —Sheldon Cooper
"I have excellent peripheral vision. On a good day I can see my ears" —Sheldon Cooper | Source

2. They Allow Them to See in Several Directions at Once

In addition to horizontal pupils, goats also have laterally placed eyes. Their adaptive strategy helps them detect predators approaching along the ground so they can flee quickly. On one hand, they must see panoramically to detect predators that could approach from various directions. At the same time, they must see sufficiently clearly in the forward direction to be able to rapidly run over potentially rough ground.

This photo shows the horizontal pupils of a goat, a toad, a deer, and a mongoose.
This photo shows the horizontal pupils of a goat, a toad, a deer, and a mongoose. | Source

3. They Reduce Blur on the Horizontal Plane

Having a constricted circular pupil prevents the peripheral zones of the lens from focusing light on the retina, which is important for image formation. This can lead to a loss of well-focused images at relevant wavelengths.

Elongated pupils allow the entire width of the lens to be involved in image formation, even in high light levels. This could be an adaptation for improving the image quality of objects on the ground by reducing the effects produced by light rays passing through different angles and thus reducing chromatic aberration and improving focus.

Unlike a circular pupil that loses focus on the outer zone as it constricts, a slit pupil allows light to pass through all zones irrespective of constriction state.
Unlike a circular pupil that loses focus on the outer zone as it constricts, a slit pupil allows light to pass through all zones irrespective of constriction state.

4. They Allow Them to Keep Their Pupils Parallel to the Ground During Grazing

To be able to make use of the above-mentioned advantages of horizontally rectangular eyes, the long axis of the pupil in goats must be in horizontal alignment with the earth.

The eyes rotate 50 degrees or more about the optic axes as they lower their heads to graze. Because the eyes are positioned laterally, the rotation is opposite in direction in the two eyes. The scientific term for this kind of eye movement is cycloconvergence.

With this adaptation, a goat can hold its gaze upright to scan the environment and at the same time lower its head down to graze. The next time you take a look at a goat or sheep, observe how their eyes stay horizontal as they tilt their heads.

5. They Limit Light Interference From Less-Important Directions

If a horizontally elongated pupil also acts as an aperture stop, it will not affect the visual field. It maximises the amount of illumination reaching the eye from more relevant lateral directions while decreasing the amount of distracting vertical light.

Furthermore, goats' pupils have "corpora nigra" attached to both their dorsal and ventral rims. These are comb-like structures that help reduce dazzle from overhead sunlight. These structures also add to the ability of the goat's eyes to capture light in important directions along the ground while reducing the variation in brightness between the sky and ground.

Snow goggles made by Arctic people to prevent snow blindness featured narrow slits to help the wearer avoid distracting light and improve vision. Slit pupils work the same way.
Snow goggles made by Arctic people to prevent snow blindness featured narrow slits to help the wearer avoid distracting light and improve vision. Slit pupils work the same way. | Source

What Type of Vision Do Goats Have?

Goats have a wide-angled vision of 320–340 degrees. Humans, on the other hand, have 210 degree-wide vision. The monocular (seen by one eye) and binocular (seen by both eyes) vision of goats is 20–60 degrees whereas binocular vision in humans is 114 degrees horizontal and 150 degrees vertical.

Although goats can see a lot of area with one eye, they have trouble figuring out the distance between themselves and the object, in other words, their depth perception is limited. They tend to avoid crossing shadows and changes in textures or colours on the ground.

Goats are dichromats, which means that they can discern only two of the three primary colours. They are sensitive to short wavelengths, which enable them to see bright purple, and long-wavelengths, which enable them to see the yellow-green colours. They can distinguish between orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. In comparison, humans are trichromatic.

What do you think of goat eyes?

See results


  • González-Martín-Moro, J., Gómez-Sanz, F., Sales-Sanz, A., Huguet-Baudin, E., & Murube-del-Castillo, J. (2014). Pupil shape in the animal kingdom: From the pseudopupil to the vertical pupil. Archivos de la Sociedad Española de Oftalmología (English Edition), 89(12), 484-494.
  • Douglas, R. H. (2018). The pupillary light responses of animals; a review of their distribution, dynamics, mechanisms and functions. Progress in retinal and eye research, 66, 17-48.
  • Banks, M. S., Sprague, W. W., Schmoll, J., Parnell, J. A., & Love, G. D. (2015). Why do animal eyes have pupils of different shapes?. Science advances, 1(7), e1500391.
  • Grandin, T. (Ed.). (2019). Livestock handling and transport. Cabi.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      4 weeks ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Sherry, I hardly realized this. But now I've take note, and will start to investigate. Thanks for sharing.


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