Addition to the article "On hominoid eyes shine"

Already after the article has been published, I have paid attention to the reference in the book by Dmitri Bayanov "Leshy nicknamed as “Ape” about occurrences of eye luminescence among humans. This book was issued in 1942 and referred to "Wolf-children and Feral Man" by J.A.L.Singh and R.M.Zingg. In the first part of it Rev. J.A.L.Singh, the head of an orphanage in region Midnapore, India, extracts from his diary of long-term observations about life and growing up of two girls, Amala and Kamala, taken from a wolf den, from approximate age of one and a half year and eight years accordingly,. Most likely, they belonged to one of Dravidian tribes, that for long time inhabit forest areas of India. The events began at autumn of 1920.

I was interested in his diary, in particular, what opportunities to night seeing were developed by these children because they must live with wolves and follow a night way of life.

Here what Reverend J.A.L.Singh wrote:


Their eyes were somewhat round and had the look as if heavy with sleep during day. But they were wide open at night after twelve o'clock. They had a peculiar blue glare, like that of a cat or dog, in the dark. At night when you saw the glare, you could not see anything round about them but the two blue powerful lights, not even the possessor of the eyes. You saw only two blue lights sending forth rays in the dark, making every other thing invisible beyond the focus curvature.

Glare—December 20, 1920

I was suddenly struck by this phenomenon on the twentieth of December, 1920, when they were just beginning to crawl. This emission of the glare was generally at night in the dark, and not visible at all when any light was brought in. They could see better at night than by day.

Sense of Sight in the Dark — January 3, 1921

On the third of January, 1921, it was found that on a very dark night where human vision and activity fails utterly, they could travel easily over an uneven terraine. They could detect the existence of a man, child, animal, or bird, or any other object in the darkest place when and where human sight fails completely”.

J.Singh summarized his observations in the following words:

“The phenomenon of "glare" is very difficult for me to explain. This was the phenomenon I noticed often at the beginning in both of their eyes and occasionally later on. I cannot account for it. I had consulted Dr. Sarbadhicari about it and he could not say anything. Moreover, it was not possible for me to take her out to Calcutta to have the eyes properly examined by an ophthalmologist, because I dreaded such publication of the rescue story outside the Orphanage where I could not have controlled the curious people. Besides, the thought never occurred to me that such an explanation would ever be asked.

The phenomenon of glare in the eyes was noticed in the following manner: The first day when they got a little better and were able to crawl about a little, it was noticed that a sort of blue light emitted from their eyes. The circumstances under which this phenomenon was noticed were these: So long as they were ill and afterwards, they could not bear the presence of any light in the sickroom where they were. Whenever any light was brought in they used to feel uneasy, which could be distinctly seen from their face and eyes. They used to close their eyes and turn round when they were able to do so, gaining a little strength after illness. So the light used to be kept at the door keeping them in the shade. They used to crawl into the darkest corner of the room to avoid even the faint light. On such occasions when we used to approach them in the room, we noticed that as soon as they turned towards us, the shape of the bodies used to disappear showing only two faint blue lights in proportion to the strength of the light thus emitting. We did not trouble ourselves; with the wolves they had acquired this power in their sight to see things in the dark like cats and dogs, and wild animals in the jungle, which I personally have seen in the jungle and in the house with the above-named domestic animals.”

This curious blue glare reported by the Rev. Singh from the eyes of the wolf-children is, in many ways, the most striking feature of the entire account, and one most apt to be controversial, since it appears as an amazing adjustment to the environment of a dark cave and nocturnal habits that the human eye should shine when it is not provided with a tapetum.

This is suggested by E.P.Walker in his article "Eyes that Shine at Night" (Ann. Report Smithsonian Inst. pp. 349-361, Washington, 1939), who however was unable to verify reports of night-shining human eyes. There are recent reports in Nature ("Shining in Human Eyes," News and Views section, London, May 11, 1940, Volume 145, p. 737) of a shop assistant in Birmingham whose eyes have the peculiarity of glowing at night with a glow of a "deep-red color."

Night-shining eyes are reported for all races. From cave dwellers in India living a life something like that of the wolf-children in their den comes this report from Nature ("Night-Shining Eyes," Letters to the Editor, London, Sept. 14, 1940, Volume 146, p. 366) by E. A. Glennie. These data are as follows:

"Speleologists have perhaps rather exceptional opportunities for observing 'night-shining' in human eyes. I have seen it on three occasions with different individuals, and once was accused of exhibiting the phenomenon myself.

"On all occasions the observer was below the object and the illuminant was the concentrated beam of a focused electric torch. The glow from the eyes is a most uncanny tawny orange, causing exclamations of horror.

"Once only have I seen night-shining by a human outside a cave. An Indian woman, who was bending low down, looked back from that position at the headlights of my car — a momentary gleam from her eyes, which ceased as she stood up and faced the light. Hence the incidence of the light on the eyes on this occasion was similar to that on the previous occasions in caves. Is it possible that the normal individual only exhibits the phenomenon when, with dilated pupils, he is caught by a concentrated beam of light coming from this rather unusual direction?" E.A.Glennie, British Speleological Association. Dehra Dun, United Provinces, India.

This phenomenon has been observed among the Negro race as well as the Caucasian and Indian. I have the following letter from Winthrop A. Travell, Supervisor of Internal Revenue, Republic of Liberia, Monrovia. He writes:

"I spent about 5 years in Liberia from 1928 to 1933 and made numerous hinterland trips where the opportunity for observation was exceptionally good. In a native village at night where the only light is a lantern at your side or behind you, with a couple of hundred or more natives looking at you, any case of night-shining eyes is pretty sure to be noticeable. . . . The first case of shining eyes which I saw was when I peered into the gloomy depths of a native hut into which the only light came through the daylighted doorway at my back. ... His eyes were gray. ... On three or four other occasions after that in different parts of the country I noticed night-shining eyes but never had an opportunity to make a detailed examination as they were in crowds of natives at night. . . ."

Mr. Ernest P. Walker, Assistant Director, National Zoological Park, reported a case to me from Science Service, which was given in their clip sheet for use Sept. 20-26, 1937. This reports that Prof. Theodore H. Hubbell, of the University of Florida at Gainsville, Florida, was shot in the face by a friend who saw his eyes shining. Professor Hubbell has written me the following letter of the full circumstances, which is made the more interesting and possibly significant in view of the extraordinary powers of night vision by which he can see small insects and other specimens in the dark. His letter follows:

“University of Florida
Department of Biology
Gainesville, Florida
January 24, 1941

Professor Robert M. Zingg
Department of Ethnology
University of Denver
Denver, Colo.

Dear Professor Zingg:

On the night of July 4, 1937, while on an expedition from the Museum of Zoology of the University of Michigan to western Oklahoma, I was collecting with an electric headlight in the upper end of a small canyon on the slope of Black Mesa. Our party was composed of W. Frank Blair of the Laboratory of Mammalian Genetics of the University of Michigan, and his two brothers, besides myself. Blair was collecting mammals, his brothers reptiles and amphibians. Blair had set a line of small-mammal traps up the canyon from our camp at its mouth. I had put up a lighted sheet at one point, but wandered away from it, returning at intervals to see what I had caught. About 10:30 P.M. I heard a cricket singing that I had not previously taken, on the far side of the canyon from the sheet, so I began to stalk the insect. It was quite wary, and ceased singing when I was within about twenty feet, so, as is the usual procedure in such cases, I turned off my light, sat down on a rock, and resigned myself to a wait of anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour or so before it should resume singing.

While sitting still in the dark, I noticed Blair coming up the canyon with his headlight on — all I could see, of course, was the light which turned this way and that way. I assumed, as was correct, that Blair was running his trap line, and idly watched him. I noticed that he frequently turned his light toward me, but thought nothing of it. I assumed that I was completely invisible. Finally, when he was about forty feet away, or perhaps sixty, his light turned full on me, and I thought he had seen me and was about to speak, when his shotgun blazed out in my face. I had just reached into my pocket for a cigarette when this occurred, and to this accident probably owe my sight or perhaps my life, for he is an excellent shot, and was aiming straight at my eyes. As it was I got about 15 shot in my face, neck, ear, and hand, which was raised and holding the cigarette — I suspect I pulled my head slightly out of line, for the bulk of the charge went by just over my shoulder. I was rushed back to camp and to Tulsa, and after some months was as good as ever, though one shot grazed my right eye and went into the ganglionic mass back of the socket, giving me partial paralysis of that side of my face for a time.

Blair said that he noticed my eyes shining from far down the canyon, with a deep-red glare, and that he had intentionally stalked me, thinking it was perhaps a mountain lion. He was using a three-cell Winchester headlight, and the accident would not have occurred had I not been absently following his light with my eyes. Perhaps by writing him you might get him to describe the appearance, since he saw it and I did not. Since then I have been tried out by other people, and sometimes my eyes shine considerably, sometimes dully, and sometimes scarcely at all. It is possible that the fact that I had been collecting in the dark all summer, with and without a headlight, might have had something to do with the brilliance of the reflection on this occasion. I have also observed that when collecting with others at night I have an unusual ability to see small insects and other specimens, but whether this indicates unusually good adaptation for vision in dim light, and something like a tapetum in my eyes, or, as I think more likely, is simply the result of experience and good eyesight, is a question that I cannot answer.

All that I can say for certain is that there is not the slightest doubt that on this particular occasion my eyes were sufficiently luminous in the light from the headlight to have attracted attention from a distance of something slightly under a quarter of a mile, and that at fairly close range they were bright, though nothing of the rest of my body could be seen by Blair.

Trusting that this information may be of some value in your investigations, I am

Yours sincerely,
(sgd.) Theodore H. Hubbell
Acting Head of Department of

Compiled by Michael Trachtengerts