Cuban rock iguana
Cuban rock iguana (Photo: © David Liittschwager/National Geographic)

They say the best way to understand someone is to walk a mile in their shoes, and it turns out that same logic roughly applies to the study of animal vision. Sure, you can't exactly insert yourself into the mind of another living being — let alone an individual from another species — but you can learn quite a bit by studying how and why animals use their vision.

February 2016 cover of National Geographic

In the February 2016 issue of National Geographic, science writer Ed Yong attempts to do just that in a fascinating article that explores the evolution of eye anatomy and examines the role that a creature's environment plays in the development of eye function and appearance.

"The variety of tasks that eyes perform is limited only by the fecundity of nature," Yong writes. "They represent a collision between the constancy of physics and the messiness of biology."

Yong's article is accompanied by incredible close-up images by photographer David Liittschwager that illustrate the diverse biology of various animals eyes. In the case of the Cuban rock iguana (above), "the eye [...] offers a window into a fundamental truth of evolution: Form follows necessity. Four types of cone cells in this diurnal creature’s retina provide excellent daytime color vision. A simpler third eye on top of the lizard’s head senses light and helps regulate body temperature."

In the video below, biologist Tom Cronin explores the diversity of how eyes and vision manifest across different animal species, from humans to mantis shrimp.

Continue below for a look at more of Liittschwager's gorgeous eye macros.

Red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas)
Red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas) (Photo: © David Liittschwager/National Geographic)
Domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris)
Domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) (Photo: © David Liittschwager/National Geographic)
Gargoyle gecko (Rhacodactylus auriculatus)
Gargoyle gecko (Rhacodactylus auriculatus) (Photo: © David Liittschwager/National Geographic)
White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)
White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) (Photo: © David Liittschwager/National Geographic)
Scarlet macaw (Ara macao)
Scarlet macaw (Ara macao) (Photo: © David Liittschwager/National Geographic)
Western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)
Western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) (Photo: © David Liittschwager/National Geographic)
Rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus haematodus)
Rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus haematodus) (Photo: © David Liittschwager/National Geographic)
Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis)
Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) (Photo: © David Liittschwager/National Geographic)
Southern ground-hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri)
Southern ground-hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) (Photo: © David Liittschwager/National Geographic)

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.