Even the most ordinary cat possesses an extraordinary ability to see in the dark. So although there’s little doubt as to the outcome, it’s still fascinating to watch this educational BBC video that demonstrates the trademark feline talent for navigating in the dark, as well as just how superior it is to a dog’s night vision.
Don’t feel too sorry for the loser, an adorable floppy-eared canine named Fen. Dogs can see five times better in the dark than humans.
But as Oedipus, the star of this video proves, the average cat possesses an astonishing ability to navigate with ease in near total darkness. That’s because cats have six to eight times more low-light sensitivity rod cells in their eyes than humans. Also, a reflective layer behind the cat’s retina called the tapetum lucidum reflects incoming light and bounces it back off the cones. This makes better use of existing light and is also the reason why cats eyes glow when a light shines on them.
BBC host Liz Bonnin teamed up with ophthalmologist Rick Sanchez of the Royal Veterinary College to stage up this simple, humane night-time experiment to determine which representative of its species “will be the fastest through the maze.” The set up involves a black, wooden maze with openings on each end. After the lights are turned off, one person lets the cat or dog loose at one end, while another stationed at the opposite end of the maze summons the competitor with kind words and food. “It really is pitch black in here, but we’re using night vision cameras,” says Bonnin.
The video shows Fen wagging his tail, but very uncertain and hesitant as he moves about in the maze, and even turns back at one point before finally collecting his reward, all of which took 43 seconds.
Oedipus the cat looks so bored, he seems about to fall asleep. No wonder, since this whole enterprise is destined to end with him declared the winner. Once set loose, he performs like a champion, exhibiting complete confidence and speed as he clears the maze in 8 seconds. “Smooth,” pronounces Bonnin. “No hesitation. As if it was broad daylight.”
This episode is one in the ongoing “Cats Vs. Dogs” series airing on the BBC, in which dog lover Chris Packham and cat lover Bonnin set out to answer the age-old question: which makes the best pet – cats or dogs? Using scientific research and a specially commissioned national pet census, the first ever taken in the UK, Bonnin and Packham set out to discover “exactly how the public feel about our canine chums and feline friends” and “to decide which they think makes the best pet.”