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Blog for May 2019  Predator and Prey eyes 

As authors we often use eyes as a metaphor for something else, like insight, perception, or the ability to foretell. For this blog I’m starting with a literal discussion of eyes: their pupil shapes and position on the head. Since I’m an avowed animal-lover, I read voraciously about their behavior, evolutionary traits, etc. I’m intrigued by the complex ways predators and prey animals evolve to better suit their hunter or hunted status. Some of their adaptations, like claws for catching vs hooves for running away, are pretty obvious, but eyes, not so much.

A study conducted by scientists from the University of California in Berkeley and Dunham University in Britain has observed differences in pupil shape. Small predators that must stalk and ambush prey have vertical slits for two important reasons. First the slit shape allows for a much greater range in muscular contracting and expanding than a round pupil. Therefore it gives the eye a wider choice in how much light to let in or block; great for day and night hunting. Secondly, the vertical shape is better for judging distance based on clues from the blur of a moving prey. This is especially important for small predators like your house cat and this pictured fox, because they need to sneak up and surprise. The bigger ones, like lions and tigers have round pupils because they don’t need that much depth-of-field accuracy, they just chase down their dinner and get it with brute force.

Prey animals, like sheep, deer and horses, have horizontal pupils, shaped like a letter-slot on your front door. They let in light fore and aft, while blocking glaring overhead light. Since the pupils are parallel to the ground, they can see predators running in from all sides. The really cool part is that when the animals lower their heads to graze, the pupils rotate, to remain horizontal!

The placement of eyes on the head is also a predator-prey adaptation. Predators need 3-D vision, to focus on who they are either pouncing on or chasing, so they have forward facing eyes, with overlapping fields of vision. The grazing prey, on the other hand, need to see who’s approaching from all around, so they have sideways facing eyes. They have such good peripheral vision that they can see behind themselves.

In the midst of all this scientific jargon I hope we can extract a nugget of wisdom for authors. We have a unique position among entrepreneurs in that we make a product with the creative side of our brains, then market and sell it with the business side of our brains. So I guess the metaphor would be that we are required to have both sets of eyes. With the forward-facing binocular ones we can focus on our target: our creative goals and literary agenda. Meanwhile we can’t forget that “it’s a jungle out there” and while we’re calmly grazing we have to keep our 360 degree look-out for predators on the business side, like unprofessional agents, vanity publishers, events or people that diminish our confidence, and even time-stealers and momentum disruptors. Keep your eyes open!

Rita Goldner     Comments welcome!

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