Evolution of the Eyes

Millions of years ago, the first eyes calmly yawned at the sun’s light that massaged the earth. These primitive eyes did very little but detect light that helped organisms to establish day/night cycles and allowed them to coordinate behavior. Throughout time, eyes became more complex as organisms evolved more complex bodies and behaviors. This led to a gradual series of fine-tuned focusing muscles, better optics, and morphological changes that provide a survival advantage to animals in detecting prey – or predator.

Below are some resources and videos regarding the evolution of the eyes.

This video, “Eyes,” is part of the “Evolve” History Channel 11-part series that looks at the evolutionary origins of a particular trait. “Eyes” is the evolutionary story of how the eye was molded into the exquisite complicated organ we see today.



Here’s a TED-Ed animated story on “The Evolution of the Human Eye” by Joshua Harvey.


“To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I confess, absurd in the highest degree…The difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection , though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered subversive of the theory.” –Charles Darwin


This is a one hour academic lecture “The Evolution of Vision” lectured by Dr. William Ayliffe at Gresham College in 2012.  Although not cinematically crafted as other videos, this dense in-depth lecture has interesting bits ranging from Darwin’s personal diary notes to modern genetic research on eyes. Powerpoints, transcripts, and links to other videos in Dr. Ayliffe’s series (Vision and the Artist, The Aging Eye, The Window on the Soul, Animal Eyes, etc.) can be found here.


A young Richard Dawkins brilliantly demonstrates the evolution of the eye in this 14 min video. This was part of the 1991 Christmas Lectures.


Fast forward in time, a late Richard Dawkins explains the evolution of the eye in this 2010 video.



This is a video excerpt from a 2002 series “Evolution” concerning the evolution of the eye. It is narrated by Liam Neeson. Yes, he will find you and he will eye you.


A Ted-X talk by the author of “Evolution’s Witness: How Eyes Evolved.”


This is a short video from BBC’s Course Clips.


Evolution of the Eye, an infographic created by Voltier Creative via Zmescience.

Further reading:

  • http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/selection/eye/
  • http://www.nyas.org/publications/detail.aspx?cid=93b487b2-153a-4630-9fb2-5679a061fff7
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3143066/
  • http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/eyes_01
  • http://www.scientificamerican.com/slideshow/lamb-evolutions-eyes-slide-show/
  • http://physics.okstate.edu/axie/courses/4313/2012fall/C7_B2_reading-evolution-of-eye-2011.pdf
  • http://www.d.umn.edu/~olse0176/Evolution/mammals.html
  • http://www.nick-lane.net/Darwin%20and%20the%20Eye.pdf
  • http://www.evodevojournal.com/content/4/1/26
  • http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1531/2833
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