Are Forward Facing Eyes Predator?

Forward facing eyes have long been associated with predators in the animal kingdom. But is this reputation warranted? Do forward facing eyes automatically make an animal a more effective predator? Let's explore this topic in-depth.

What are Forward Facing Eyes?

Forward facing eyes, also known as binocular vision, refers to an animal having both eyes facing the same direction. This allows the animal to have overlapping fields of vision from each eye, creating depth perception and ability to accurately judge distances.

Animals like humans, apes, monkeys, big cats, foxes, wolves, bears, owls and hawks have forward facing eyes. Their eyes are situated on the front of their faces, allowing for stereo or binocular vision.

In contrast, animals like rabbits, deer, horses, lizards and fish have eyes on the sides of their heads. This gives them a wide field of panoramic vision to spot threats from the side and rear. But they lack sharp focus directly ahead.

The Predator Theory of Forward Facing Eyes

The most common theory is that forward facing eyes evolved specifically for predatory purposes. Animals that hunt for a living needed excellent depth perception and ability to judge distances accurately when chasing down prey.

Neurobiologist John Allman suggested that forward facing eyes proved extremely beneficial for creatures that hunted at night, such as owls and cats. In darkness, judging distances by sound alone was not reliable. Forward facing eyes gave them a distinct visual advantage.

According to this theory, forward facing eyes are an adaptation well suited for predators who rely on accurate vision and depth perception. Eyes positioned at the front allow them to stereoscopically fixate and target prey with greater precision.

As University of California professor Terrence Deacon put it, forward facing eyes represent a “design specification for hunters”. They offer crucial visual specialization for predatory tasks like chasing, pouncing and grabbing.

Evidence Supporting the Predator Theory

There is substantial evidence to indicate forward facing eyes evolved specifically for predatory reasons:

  • Many apex predators like big cats, bears, wolves, hyenas, crocodiles, killer whales, large raptors and owls have forward facing eyes. Their stereoscopic vision helps them effectively spot, pursue and capture prey.
  • Primates like monkeys and apes also evolved forward facing eyes as they adopted a more carnivorous diet. Anthropologists think our earliest primate ancestors were insectivores who needed sharp vision to spot bugs and small prey.
  • Fossil records show ambush predators like saber tooth cats and cave lions had forward facing eyes that enhanced their ability to ambush prey from hiding.
  • Modern ambush predators like alligators, crocodiles, pythons, monitor lizards and cuttlefish have eyes facing forward to accurately judge distances when attacking.
  • Aquatic predators including sharks, barracuda and killer whales have forward facing eyes that assist them in underwater hunting. Their depth perception is adapted to their aquatic environment.

Clearly, many leading predatory species alive today and throughout history have benefitted from forward facing eyes that bolster their ability to spot, track down and subdue prey. This lends strong support to the predator theory.

Are There Any Exceptions?

However, the predator theory has some exceptions that need addressing:

Not All Predators Have Forward Facing Eyes

While forward facing eyes are common in predators, not all predators actually have them. For example:

  • Mongooses are adept hunters of venomous snakes but they have eyes on the sides of their heads.
  • Small predatory birds like shrikes, flycatchers and kingfishers hunt insects and small prey with eyes pointing to the sides.
  • Tree shrews are insectivorous mammals that also lack forward facing eyes.
  • Robins actively hunt worms and insects on the ground but don't have eyes facing forward.

These exceptions indicate that while forward facing eyes can enhance predatory ability, they are not absolutely essential. Some predators have adapted with different visual capabilities.

Many Herbivores Also Have Forward Facing Eyes

Certain herbivorous animals like red kangaroos, colobus monkeys and rhinos have forward facing eyes. Their dietary and lifestyle needs do not include hunting, yet they possess binocular vision typically associated with carnivores.

Some Dinosaurs Had Eyes On Sides of Their Heads

Paleontologists have determined that large predatory dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus Rex and velociraptors actually had eyes facing sideways, not forward. Their wide panoramic vision helped scan for threats and prey.

These contradictions to the predator theory of forward facing eyes indicate there are likely other evolutionary factors at play. While predatory ability is a major benefit of binocular vision, it may not be the only one.

Other Evolutionary Advantages of Forward Facing Eyes

If forward facing eyes did not arise purely for predatory reasons, what are some other potential benefits that may have driven their evolution?

Enhanced Depth Perception

Forward facing eyes greatly enhance depth perception and ability to accurately judge distances. This has obvious benefits for finding food and capturing prey. But it also helps animals safely move through 3D environments, judge terrain and avoid accidents.

For prey animals like deer and horses, depth perception aids escape from predators and prevents falls or collisions when moving at high speeds. Even for slow animals, judging distances is an important factor in navigation and spatial awareness.

Social Cognition

In highly social species like primates, forward facing eyes aid social intelligence and communication. Making direct eye contact, following the gaze of others and interpreting facial expressions are pivotal social skills enabled by binocular vision.

As social group sizes increased in primate evolution, forward facing eyes likely provided a social cognitive edge that was selected for.

Focus on Central Vision

Having both eyes face front concentrates an animal's visual attention directly ahead rather than on peripheral areas. This creates mental focus relevant for tasks like stalking prey visually, manipulating objects with forelimbs and eye-hand coordination.

Concentrated visual attention may have cognitive benefits that aided evolution in certain species like primates.

Fewer Blind Spots

Eyes at the front reduce peripheral blind spots and allow an animal to vividly see what's directly in front of it. Creatures that developed acute central vision needed to safely focus on food sources, work with tools or intensely examine objects likely benefited from reduced blind spots.

Brain Development

Front-facing eyes require significant brain development to process stereoscopic vision. This may have provided evolutionary incentive for advanced brains capable of handling complex visual tasks.

The correlation between forward facing eyes and higher intelligence in some species suggests a link between binocular vision and advanced brain evolution.

The Verdict: A Mix of Factors

In conclusion, while forward facing eyes provide clear predatory advantages, the benefits likely extend beyond just hunting skills. A combination of factors around depth perception, cognition, social intelligence, central focus and brain development contributed to this adaptation being selected for in certain species.

The predator theory holds merit – but cannot fully explain why many herbivores also evolved forward facing eyes. And why some predators lack them. Binocular vision seems to provide various evolutionary benefits beyond predatory prowess alone.

So in answer to the key question – are forward facing eyes inherently predator? The answer is no. While excellent for hunting, forward facing eyes alone do not automatically make an animal a predator. Multiple evolutionary drivers contributed to the development of stereoscopic vision in various species over time.


  1. Allman, John. Evolving Brains. Scientific American Library. New York. 1999.
  2. Cartmill, Matt. Rethinking primate origins. Science. 1974 Jul 5;185(4147):4-5.
  3. Fobes, J.L. and King, J.E. Primate Behavior. Academic Press. New York. 1982.
  4. Heesy, Christopher P. On the relationship between craniofacial morphology and feeding behavior in primates. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews. 2004 Feb 1;13(2):61-71.
  5. Stevens, Kent A. Binocular vision in theropod dinosaurs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 2006 May 1;26(2):321-30.


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