Bees are attracted to beautiful flowers so they can feed on the flower’s nectar and take the pollen back to their baby bees (larva). Bees are attracted to flowers that host more pollen and nectar and because bees are important for pollination, flowers have adapted themselves over time to be more attractive for bees through their scent and also through their color.
It was determined in the early 1900s that bees can see a whole range of colors. Bees cannot differentiate between red and black, but unlike humans, bees can see ultraviolet. It is believed that bees favor colors like purple, blue, and violet because of their ability to see ultraviolet.
Because bees are extremely vital to our ecosystem, we feel that the way they see color is an important question to answer. Did you know that flowers exhibit large volumes of ultraviolet light, and this affects the way bees choose their flowers? Read on below to find out more colorful facts about bees and how their five eyes differ from the eyes of a human.
How Do Bees See Color?
Our little furry bee friends might be small, but they have enough space on their tiny bodies to fit five eyes! Five eyes that can distinguish between most colors, but not all.
Measuring how humans and other animals and insects see colors, can be done through the visible color spectrum, as demonstrated in the 1600s by physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton.
Here’s a chart of the visible spectrum and the wavelength for which we see each color. This chart will help to show how bees see color vs how humans see color for a better understanding of why bees see certain colors and don’t see others.
|Ultra-violet||100 – 400|
Humans can see between wavelengths of around 390 nanometers up to 750 nanometers while bees can see wavelengths from approximately 300 nanometers up to 650 nanometers.
According to this chart, which you can find in more detail here, bees can see wavelength colors at lower nanometers than humans can, meaning bees can see ultraviolet, but they can’t see further than approximately 650 nanometers, which means bees are colorblind to the color red because it is outside their reach on the visible color spectrum.
Another important fact to note is that bees have vision up to five times faster than human eyes so they can see moving objects easily and can distinguish predator, prey, and food varieties while they are flying. This fast vision is advantageous for bees to be able to land on well-pollinated flowers and escape threats while busy working.
Are Bees Colorblind?
Bees are only colorblind to the color red, which reaches a higher wavelength on the visible color spectrum than the bees’ 5 eyes are capable of seeing. They cannot differentiate between red and black and are therefore much less attracted to red-colored flowers and plants.
It is a natural instinct for bees to see darker colors as a threat. Because bees can’t make out the difference between red and black, they may see red flowers as threatening no matter how much pollination and nectar is in the beautiful red flower. Most animals that attack beehives are darker colors, like skunks, bears, and other wildlife that want the yummy honey bees have worked extremely hard to produce.
You may have noticed that white and black are not on the visible color spectrum. This is simply because the “color” white is a result of our eyes mixing multiple wavelengths. We see white when all the colors on the spectrum are reflected off an object and it’s no different for bees.
This is important to note because bees do not see white as a threatening color, and therefore beekeepers typically wear white beekeeping suits. Although white is attractive to bees, white is a pretty safe color for bees and beekeepers alike and bees are less likely to attack such a safe and calming color.
Is it Important for Bees to See Color?
Without bees, who pollinate our crops, we may not have any crops at all. Our ecosystem would possibly collapse without bees because a huge number of our crops need to be pollinated by bees for survival. That’s how important bee vision is.
Bees need to see color so that they can easily find flowers with pollen and nectar, for their own ecosystem and ours. Bees use their vision to identify flowers and they use their speed in vision for the same reason but for when they’re flying fast.
According to livescience.com, while a bee is flying fast, what they see is shades of flickering lights and reflections, so their speed vision helps them to distinguish colorful flowers at high speeds so they can safely land on them and keep working.
Bees and Ultraviolet
Flowers emit large volumes of ultraviolet light that the human eye can’t usually see. Bees, however, can see ultraviolet light and this becomes a huge advantage for them when seeking flowers for pollination and food sources.
Bees are hugely attracted to ultraviolet light and purple colors because flowers that emit these colors are basically advertising their readiness to be pollinated by pollinators. Being able to see these ultraviolet colors and other colors like blue, yellow, green, cyan, and orange makes it easier for bees to accurately find flowers for nectar.
Why Do Bees Have 5 Eyes?
Unless you look at a bee through a microscope, you won’t see all of their eyes. Humans can see that bees have two big eyes, but they have three smaller eyes that come in handy with their ultra-vision techniques and tactics.
You might think that with 5 eyes, bees can see almost perfectly, but this isn’t the case. Bee’s vision is actually quite blurred compared to a human’s eye because bees only have thousands of photoreceptors in each of their large eyes whereas humans have over one million in each of theirs.
Bees’ eyes can be categorized into two groups:
- Compound Eyes
The compound eyes of a bee are its two larger eyes that humans can see. Each compound eye hosts what’s called “facets” that are the lenses in the insects’ eyes. There are thousands of these lenses in each eye and each lens makes up a small part of the bee’s vision.
The bee’s little brain (although not little in smarts!) then turns these vision signals into mosaic pictures. Each facet has cells that respond to light and color, including polarized light. In short, because bees can see polarized light, they can easily navigate the sun even when it isn’t shining.
- Ocelli Eyes
The smaller three eyes of a bee only contain a single lens each and are the eyes bees use to find ultraviolet colors in flowers. These eyes also stabilize the bee and help them to stay oriented, especially while in flight.
All the lenses in the bees’ eyes work together to create their vision and their ability to see light and colors.
Although bees also have the sense of smell and can use the scent of a flower to find and pollinate them, the color vision that bees have is vital to assisting them with finding and seeking out flowers from a distance as well as distinguishing between friend and foe in other insects and animals.
Numerous studies have been conducted on the eyesight and vision of bees. It is agreed by many scientists that bees can see in color, minus red, and this is a huge advantage for bees to be able to continue making our ecosystem what it is today.