Can Donkeys See In The Dark?

As you stumble around a dark pasture with a flashlight on a cold winters evening, you may wonder can donkeys see in the dark? And if so, just how well can they see in the dark? The quick answer is that they can see quite well in the dark!

For starters, donkeys have a higher ratio of rods to cones in their eyes compared to us humans. Rods are specialized cells that are sensitive to light; cones are more sensitive to color. Donkeys also have a layer of tissue behind their retinas called a tapetum lucidum, which reflects light. These differences mean that a donkey has much better night vision than you do.

In fact, a donkey can see as well under the light of a full moon as they do at midday. Even though it seems to be pitch-dark to us, most donkeys can see well enough to safely navigate their surroundings.

Remember, however, that donkey eyes do not adjust as quickly as ours do when moving between light and dark areas. So, when you’re taking a donkey from a brightly lit barn out to a darkened pasture, or vice versa, make sure to pause, giving them a few moments for their eyes to adjust to the sudden change in the light.

Are Donkeys Sensitive To Light?

As donkeys have more rods in their eyes than humans, a high proportion of rods to cones of (about 20:1). This also gives them a better vision on slightly cloudy days, relative to bright, sunny days. The large eye of a donkey improves tasks that don’t involve color, particularly in dim conditions, which seemingly assists in the detection of predators. Laboratory studies have shown that donkeys are capable of distinguishing different shapes in low light, including levels mimicking dark, moonless nights in wooded areas. When light decreases to nearly dark, donkeys cannot discriminate between different shapes, but remain able to negotiate around the enclosure and testing equipment in conditions where humans in the same enclosure “stumbled into walls, apparatus, pylons, and even the donkey itself.”


“Donkeys have good night vision, and on a night lit by a partial moon or by bright stars alone, normally donkeys can see as well as humans do in full daylight.”