What Do Snakes Have Instead of Eyelids?

© iStock.com/Tamascsere

Written by Megan Martin

Published: June 19, 2022

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Snakes are interesting animals with equally interesting anatomy. One of the most interesting aspects of snakes is the fact that they don’t have eyelids. However, that doesn’t mean they’re without protection. If you’re wondering what snakes have instead of eyelids, keep reading to find out!

What Are Eyelids Exactly?

When it comes to understanding a snake’s eyelids – or rather, lack thereof – it’s important to know what an eyelid is. After all, it’s more than just protection for your eyes.

Eyelids have a very specific definition. They are folds of skin that are designed to sit over your eye with the ability to close as needed to provide protection and moisture. This also means that they have their own muscles that connect to the brain and allow for movement.

Snakes lack both these muscles and these folds of skin. Instead, they’ve adapted a new way to keep their eyes safe. 

What do Snakes have instead of Eyelids?

Profile of an albino plains hognose snake's face

Instead of eyelids, snakes have a special clear scale known as a brille.

©Ana Dracaena/Shutterstock.com

Instead of eyelids, snakes have what is known as a brille. You may also see this called other names too, such as ocular scale, eye cap, or spectacle. A brille is a transparent layer that fits over the snake’s eye. The brille is attached to the snake’s eyes, however, so it doesn’t move around.

This also means that a snake’s eyes are always closed. If you were to close your eyes, you wouldn’t be able to see. However, because snakes have clear “eyelids,” they’re able to receive that same round-the-clock protection without sacrificing their eyesight.

If you’ve ever been near a snake, you may have noticed that their eyes always look glossy. This is because of the brille, which also helps keep their eyes moistened. Because the brille is transparent and doesn’t move, it’s usually hard to tell that snakes even have one.

A snake brille can also heal themselves! Occasionally, when a brille is doing its job right, it may become scratched. While this doesn’t cause too much harm to the snake, it can obscure its vision. This is especially true since they are unable to move their brille, unlike eyelids. However, over time, the brille will heal on its own, and the scratches will fade. This is because, like other parts of the body, the brille is connected to the snake’s blood flow.

Although snakes have their own form of a specialized eyelids, they can’t blink. This is because their eye brilles are a covering over their entire eye. Blinking requires muscles to physically move the eyelids to close, which snakes lack.

Since snakes don’t have eyelids and can’t blink, they sleep with their eyes open! Usually, when you’re ready for bed, you need to close your eyes in order to fall asleep. For a snake, sleeping is as simple as their brain initiating the process. 

Why Snakes Don’t need Eyelids like other animals

The Indian python is a large non venomous snake species found India,Nepal,Pakistan,Sri Lanka,Bhutan and Bangladesh.

Snakes have adapted to being able to thrive on the ground.

©iStock.com/reptiles4all

You’ll be surprised to learn that it isn’t actually of matter of snakes not needing eyelids but rather the fact they need more.

You see, because snakes don’t have legs, they’re constantly on the ground. This means that their eyes are also being exposed to possible dangers such as dirt, dust, and debris. Eyelids are only fully protective when the eyes are closed. As a result, unless the snake slithered around with their eyes closed all day, they would still be at risk of eye injuries.

Because of this, snakes have evolved to have brille instead of eyelids as they provide constant protection. Since many other animals aren’t constantly exposed to dirt and dust like snakes are, 24/7 eye protection isn’t as important for them.

Other Animals Without Eyelids

Eye brilles are actually fairly common in the world of reptiles. From snakes to certain lizards to even some skinks, many reptiles don’t have eyelids. All of these species live their lives on or close to the dirt, and so eye brilles provide them with the best protection.

There are also many other species in the world that don’t have eyelids, although they may not have brille either. Some boney fish, for example, have what is known as an adipose eyelid. This is a transparent “eyelid” that covers most of the eye, helping keep it safe without blinking. Frogs also don’t have eyelids and instead have what is known as a nictitating membrane.

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About the Author

Megan is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is birds, felines, and sharks. She has been researching and writing about animals for four years, and she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in biology and professional and technical writing from Wingate University, which she earned in 2022. A resident of North Carolina, Megan is an avid birdwatcher that enjoys spending time with her cats and exploring local zoological parks with her husband.

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