Looking a gorilla or chimp in the eyes is – for most humans – a profound experience. Ape eyes are so enigmatic and it’s obvious that we have much in common in the way of facial expressions and behavior.
Do you like being stared at? Probably not. In most primates a direct stare is a threat, while looking down or away is submissive. Being able to read the eye movements of others is very important in social communication. This is easier to do if the color of the iris contrasts with that of the sclera – in our case, the sclera is the “white of the eye”. In other members of the hominid family (apes and us) the sclera is usually darker, but occasional mutants show a white sclera too. Why might it be an advantage to have a white sclera? Why do some people dye their sclera black?
Here is a fun quiz for all of you who think you know how to tell about a person or animal from the eyes. See if you can guess the owners of the eyes at left. (Answers below)
answers: orang, bonobo, human, chimp, gorilla