Few birds of prey hunt by night.
New research suggests that there’s something special in the way the DNA molecules in owls’ eyes are packaged, giving them a powerful visual advantage in the dark, Science Alert reports.
The new study proposes that through the process of natural selection, the DNA in the retinal cells of owls may have been put together so that it acts as a sort of lens or vision enhancer, improving eyesight at night.
This unusual trait hasn’t been seen in birds before, which hints that owls are the only birds to travel down this particular evolutionary path.
Most birds are diurnal, as we are – being most active in the day and sleeping at night.
“In the ancestral branch of the owls, we found traces of positive selection in the evolution of genes functionally related to visual perception, especially to phototransduction, and to chromosome packaging,” the researchers write.
The team looked at the genomes of 20 different bird species, including 11 owls, identifying where beneficial mutations had been kept over generations. As expected, much of this has happened in the areas of sensory perception, which is why owls can hear and see so well.