Cheetahs are known for their incredible speed and distinct fur coat, but have you ever wondered about the color of their eyes? Their eyes are perhaps one of their most striking features. If you’re looking for a quick answer, cheetahs have yellow, amber, or golden colored eyes.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive deep into the details around a cheetah’s eye color. We’ll look at what causes their eyes to be this distinct shade, whether it varies between individual cheetahs, and how their eye color aids their hunting abilities.

What Causes a Cheetah’s Eye Color?

The Tapetum Lucidum

The primary factor that contributes to a cheetah’s eye color is the presence of a reflective layer behind the retina called the tapetum lucidum. This tissue acts like a mirror, reflecting visible light back through the retina and improving night vision.

It’s the reason why cheetahs’ eyes seem to glow in the dark.

The color of the tapetum lucidum varies between individual cheetahs, resulting in different eye shades of yellow, green, orange or bronze. The pigmentation, thickness and exact structure of the tissue all affect the hue.

An extensive 2015 study found considerable variation even between the two eyes of the same cheetah.

Melanin Concentration

The other key factor is melanin, the pigment that gives color to skin, hair and eyes. Higher melanin levels result in darker eye shades. Melanin is deposited in the iris – the colored ring around the pupil. Less melanin produces yellow or golden eyes.

Interestingly, cubs are born with startling blue eyes due to the absence of melanin. Their true eye color develops as they mature. By six months, the transition to gold or green is usually complete.

Do All Cheetahs Have the Same Eye Color?

Minor Natural Variations

While most cheetahs have eyes that appear amber or gold in color, there are some minor natural variations in eye shade between individual cheetahs. The typical eye color ranges from light golden or yellowish brown to a darker copper tone.

However, a small percentage of cheetahs may have greenish-grey, blue-grey, or even pale blue eyes. These subtle differences in eye color are likely caused by genetic differences between subspecies or populations.

In a survey of 40 wild cheetahs in Namibia, researchers found that most had amber/yellow eyes, while around 5% had blue eyes. So while amber eyes are the norm, limited blue coloration does naturally occur in some cheetahs.

This seems to be more common in cheetahs from cooler, mountainous habitats, possibly suggesting environmental factors influence eye color.[1]

The minor variations in eye shade don’t significantly impact a cheetah’s vision or hunting abilities. But the striking eye colors remain a beautiful and distinctive feature of these big cats. Interestingly, the black “tear lines” that run from the inner corners of a cheetah’s eyes down to the mouth may help reflect sunlight into the eyes to aid vision.[2]

Eye Color and Subspecies

There are some broad regional differences in cheetah eye color between the various subspecies found across Africa and Iran. The Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus), critically endangered in Iran, typically has paler, golden-yellow eyes compared to the deeper amber/copper eyes of African cheetahs.

Among the African subspecies, there are also subtle variations in eye color:

  • Northeast African cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii) tend to have a bright yellow eye color.
  • East African cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus raineyi) usually have a rich amber eye color.
  • Southern African cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus jubatus) normally have a deep honey-gold or copper tone eye.

These regional eye color differences are likely genetic adaptations to the various environments that cheetahs inhabit across Africa and Asia. The pale yellow eyes of Asiatic cheetahs may help reflect sunlight in Iran’s desert landscape.

The sharp copper tone of southern African cheetahs’ eyes could help vision in the reddish, Kalahari sands. But more research would be needed to confirm if subtle eye color variations confer any selective advantage to different cheetah populations.

Cheetah Subspecies Region Typical Eye Color
Asiatic cheetah Iran Pale golden-yellow
Northeast African cheetah Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia Bright yellow
East African cheetah Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda Rich amber
Southern African cheetah South Africa, Namibia, Botswana Copper or honey-gold

So while most cheetahs share a similar amber/golden eye color, there are minor natural variations between individuals and subspecies. But these subtle differences in eye shade don’t significantly impact a cheetah’s vision or hunting skills in its environment.

How Do Cheetahs Use Their Eye Color for Hunting?

Enhanced Visual Acuity

Cheetahs have excellent visual clarity and sharpness which aids their hunting strategy substantially. Their eyes contain a high concentration of retinal receptors and visual purple pigment which allows them to see small prey over long distances of up to 5km away (1).

Their impressive visual acuity helps cheetahs spot potential prey quickly and efficiently.

Additionally, a 2017 study found that cheetahs have specialized slit-shaped pupils which drastically reduce chromatic blur and improve image sharpness when viewing distant objects (2). So a cheetah’s unique eyes literally enable them to zoom-in on far away prey with brilliant accuracy.

Increased Ability to See in Low Light

Cheetahs have evolved to hunt mainly during the day. But their retinal receptors still contain a high ratio of rods to cones which gives them surprisingly good vision in low light conditions (3). So cheetahs can utilize the dim light of dawn and dusk hunting hours when prey are transitioning to/from nighttime routines.

Interestingly, the black “tear lines” on a cheetah’s face may actually help reduce sunlight glare. Researchers theorize this helps improve prey detection during the bright daylight hours when cheetahs prefer to hunt (4).

So a cheetah’s specialized eyes and facial markings support its exceptional ability to spot prey any time of day!



A cheetah’s distinct golden, yellow, or amber eyes are the result of specific anatomical adaptations – namely the tapetum lucidum and melanin concentration. While all cheetahs share this eye color, there can be minor variations in shade between individuals.

Most importantly, a cheetah’s eye color aids its ability to spot and capture prey by enhancing visual clarity and improving night vision. Their eyes work seamlessly with their other adaptations to make them effective hunters and the fastest land mammal.

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