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Mysterious Animal Senses

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Don't Fear the Reaper, but also, don't pester him with demands, you little asshat.
The older badgers were even more despondent, as their highly developed instincts told them that the days of snow would be many and that before they were over the full moon would fade away, rest and return to a new fullness before the snows would leave them. This strange power was felt more strongly in some of them, but it was built into them through heredity and most were unable to ignore or resist it. Even the man animal was sometimes under its influence, but through the ages had lost the awareness of it just as he had lost other senses.

Whenever animals are used as protagonists in a story, it's nearly guaranteed that they'll possess senses at least on par with, and more likely far in excess of, the human norm. Also, all animals will have very nearly the same set of senses. A wolf protagonist? Not only can he discover your life history from one whiff of your clothes, he can also tell what color hat you're wearing from a mile away, and hear the sound of snow falling through a half foot of steel. And probably be able to sense ghosts and the innate innocence of the All-Loving Hero, to boot.

This is not how it works in Real Life.

While many animals do have interesting and novel abilities, they also lack some of the senses humans consider to be mundane - tri-chromatic vision most obviously (but not exclusively). No single animal has all the nifty keen abilities you saw on that one Discovery Channel special.

See also Super-Senses, Spider-Sense and Animal Eyes. Compare Sense Freak. Super-awesome animal-like senses are often employed as one of the reasons why Funny Animals and Beast Men are better, and the lack of those makes humans Puny Earthlings in comparison.

An animal-specific subtrope of Bizarre Alien Senses. Compare Unexpectedly Human Perception.


Subversions and aversions only, otherwise we'd have every critter book in existence here


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  • Animorphs usually put a lot of (relatively believable) detail into the differences in the way the protagonists' senses worked in their various animal forms.
  • Discworld:
    • Spoofed in the book Moving Pictures, where the talking Holy Wood animals are annoyed that Victor keeps referring to them as having "mysterious animal senses".
    • Gaspode the Wonder Dog is also rather put out to find that he's seeing in color. All of a sudden, the pleasantly gray meat scraps he'd previously enjoyed are all icky red/maroon stuff!
  • Much is made of how dogs and foxes perceive things through their noses in ways humans can barely understand in The Fox and the Hound, but Copper the dog's eyesight is so bad that he seems to consider clear colour vision a Mysterious Human Sense.
  • Averted in the Silverwing series - the bat main characters view the environment almost exclusively through echolocation, and colors besides silver are never mentioned. This was deliberately done by the author, and it is not something you notice until you know. (Also, in this case, "silver" probably refers to reflective gray.)
  • In The One and Only Ivan for the most part the animals have keener senses of smell than the humans but not markedly so. However, Stella knows long before Ruby arrives that a baby elephant is being brought to the mall. She can hear her, crying for her mother. The dog and gorilla Stella's talking to can't hear her and wonder if she's making it up, but indeed she's correct. It's not textually explained but the elephants are almost certainly communicating with "infrasound", a frequency far lower than anything the human ear can pick up and which elephants can produce and hear over many miles. This book being written by the creator of Animorphs, it's unsurprising.

  • In Darwin's Soldiers, Dr. Kerzach, a anthropomorphic cassowary has pretty much no sense of smell. Also, snakes have poor hearing.
  • In Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues, Jenna is turned from a human girl into a floating consciousness that controls an insect swarm. She doesn't retain her human senses, instead perceiving the world through the different type of senses that her insects are equipped with, which she finds to be disorientating.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Any Vector in Hc Svnt Dracones can develop their sense of smell as a skill, but they can't track or identify someone's mood by scent without genetic reclamation surgery. And any other weird animal sense requires Surgery too.
  • Each Species in Ironclaw has one or two Natural Senses, but no more; when using those senses, they can include their Species Trait in their Observation roll. Some Species have Gifts that improve those sense even further (Keen Eyes, Keen Ears, Keen Nose), or provide exotic sensory abilities like Echolocation.

  • In Kevin & Kell, it's occasionally mentioned that Kell (a wolf) is color-blind, and characters are frequently shown perceiving the world primarily through scent.

    Web Original 
  • In the Whateley Universe, after Merry gets turned into a werecat, she goes color-blind.

    Western Animation 
  • When Momo the lemur's POV is used in Avatar: The Last Airbender, the view is bubble-distorted and tinted green to show less nuanced color vision and a wider visual range. There's also the Shirshu, that uses scent alone, which is shown as different color trails on a grainy black background, and pouring a bunch of perfume next to it made it entirely disoriented.
  • In the Family Guy episode "Brian Writes a Bestseller", Brian blasts Stewie for messing up his order.
    Brian: I said no green M&Ms. They're all grey.
  • In Rugrats, Spike's point of view is always shown in grayscale, since dogs don't see color, but his sound perception is different every time: in one, human dialogue is understandable but a bit distorted; in another, dialogue is about half understandable and half gibberish, but distorted into extremely deep voices; and another had no distortions but was all gibberish and mumbling with a different sound for each character.
  • The Simpsons uses odd visual filters when using an animal's POV on occasion.


  • A colour-blind joke is used for a Wire Dilemma in Cats & Dogs.
  • Shrek features a scene in which Donkey is asked to find a blue flower with red thorns. Even when surrounded by such flowers, he still has trouble fulfilling the request because he can't tell what color they are; he eventually gives up and grabs one at random.
    Donkey: Blue flower, red thorns, blue flower, red thorns...oh, this would be so much easier if I wasn't colorblind!

    Video Games 
  • Sam & Max Hit the Road: The two main characters (a dog and a rabbit) purchase a paint-by-numbers game only to find out neither can see in color.

  • In Freefall, Florence (an uplifted "Bowman's wolf") does have superhuman smell, but she must defer to humans as to what are "good" smells ("Decaying Buffalo... There's a scent that... Well... You just want to roll in it."). She's also colorblind ("It's always difficult trying to appear attractive to a sense you don't have), and mentions that she hears in a different range to humans (shouting to overcome a high-pitched noise her coworkers can't hear, for instance).
    • However, it's later revealed that all Bowman's Wolves are extra colour blind, as a result of the 'Uplifting' modifications. Your average dog can see light and dark blue well enough to tell the difference, so presumably wolves and other canines can.

    Real Life 
  • In a non-fictional subversion, bats were variously hypothesized to possess either phenomenal night vision or (once blindfold experiments shot that down) a sense of touch so keen that they could feel distortions in air density from nearby objects. Only when earplug tests revealed they needed to hear to navigate was the mystery of their Mysterious Animal Senses (echolocation) solved.
    • Funnily enough, that "sensing distortions in air density from nearby objects" hypothesis? It actually does apply, just not for bats, but for humans. Not usually very highly developed in people who aren't blind (and even for people who are, it hardly replaces normal vision), but such "facial vision" can help people who have impaired vision sense the general size and location of large objects.
  • A lot of animals that folklore says are "colorblind" don't actually have monochromatic vision, though their color vision isn't exactly the same as that of humans. Dogs, for example, are rather better than humans at distinguishing between hues of blue, but have more trouble telling orange from red. However, many animals do seem to impart rather less importance to color than humans do... cats were thought to be colorblind until researchers realized they were just ignoring it completely and relying on their sense of smell instead (if it didn't smell like food, the cats couldn't care less what color it was, because cats).