Hoaxes & Rumors

Classic Viral Video: The Cat-Eyed Boy

Classic Viral Video: The Cat-Eyed Boy

Today we look at the story of a boy who supposedly has cat-like eyes which allow him to see in the dark.

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Back in 2009, a video was posted online by Chinese CCTV which showed a boy named Nong Yousui with bright blue eyes that allegedly illuminated green when exposed to light. It was also asserted that the boy possessed night vision which allowed him to read in total darkness. Although the video initially received little interest, in 2012 it was discovered and re-circulated by YouTube channels which brought more attention to the story. It went viral online at the time and often and still occasionally resurfaces as it is posted by internet “fact” pages.

You can see the full 2009 report below:

Experts Remain Skeptical

Despite the claims, experts remain skeptical that the boy has true night vision. Night vision in nocturnal animals is due to a thin reflective membrane made of zinc called the tapetum lucidum in front of their retinas. This layer intensifies and reflects any incoming light which results in the ability to see in the dark. The layer is also what causes the eyes of such animals to appear to glow when light strikes them. However, as one can see in the video above, Nong Yousui’s eyes do not demonstrate this reflective property when light is directed toward them in low light conditions.

When asked about the possibility of human night vision, James Reynolds, a pediatric ophthalmologist at State University of New York in Buffalo, replied with the following statement:

Evolutionarily, mutations can result in differences that allow for new environmental niche exploitation. But such mutations are modified over long periods. A functional tapetum in a human would be just as absurd as a human born with wings. It can’t happen.

According to an article about the cat-eyed boy in Live Science, Adam Hickenbotham, an optometrist and clinical researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, contacted them to express that he believed that Nong Yousai’s unusual eye color could be explained by a mild case of ocular albinism. He went on to explain that a mild case of ocular albinism could cause the eyes to be mildly reflective and sensitive to bright lights. This makes sense, as several reports claim that Nonh Yousai is sensitive to sunlight.

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Ocular Albinism

At the 7:28 mark in the video above, the doctor who examined Nong states, “Nong has localized pigment deficiency of the eyes…This is ocular albinism.” When asked if ocular albinism can lead to night vision, the doctor replied that he didn’t think that to be the case, but that the boy probably had become accustomed to seeing in lower light due to preference over bright light.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines ocular albinism in the following way:

A genetic condition that primarily affects the eyes. This condition reduces the coloring (pigmentation) of the iris, which is the colored part of the eye, and the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Pigmentation in the eye is essential for normal vision.

The most common form of ocular albinism affects about 1 in 60,000 males. It is less common in females.

Bottom Line

A viral story circulating on the internet claims that a young boy in China has cat-like eyes which allow him to see in the dark. Reports of night vision appear to be greatly exaggerated, as ocular albinism is a much more likely explanation. Ocular albinism is a rare genetic issue that causes a reduction in colored pigmentation of the iris. This condition explains the boy’s unusually light eye color, his sensitivity to bright lights, a potential adaptation to lower light levels, and possibly a mild reflection when light strikes his eyes in low light.

Updated May 28, 2016
Originally published March 2015

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