How are bees able to move around and locate flowers, food, and predators? Human beings have eyes, but what about bees? What senses do they rely on? All these are questions most people wonder about and want to know. If you are reading this article, you are in luck. You will learn all there is to learn about bees’ sight and vision.
Bees are not blind; they have actual physical eyes, which helps them see their immediate surroundings and navigate. Bees have 5 eyes classified into two main categories (compound eyes and ocelli eyes). The bee’s eyes help it to see different colors, light, predators and even humans.
Can Bees See?
Unlike humans that have only two eyes, bees have more than two. Bees have a total of five eyes. These many eyes on their head help them see the world around them clearly and in intricate detail.
You may be wondering how one insect can have that many sets of eyes. Well, it is true. If you look at a bee closely, the first eyes you will notice are the two eyes with one on either side of its head. The two large eyes on the bees are what are commonly referred to as compound eyes. In addition to these two, there are three other smaller eyes located on top of the bee’s head.
The five eyes all work together in helping the bee be aware of its surroundings in real-time to avert any danger and easily locate forage.
Let us begin with the large compound eyes.
The two large compound eyes are usually the most obvious to see and are on the sides to help the bee perceive its surroundings and notice if anyone approaches it from the sides or the front.
Each of the compound eyes has well over 4000 separate hexagonal lenses. The technical term for these lenses is ommatidia. The dynamics of the lenses is that each has photoreceptor cells and is among other different types of cells within the eyes.
The photoreceptors serve an important role in the bee’s vision. Through them, the bee can perceive different wavelengths of light and thus enables the bee to distinguish between different colors.
There is a similarity between humans and bees in that they both have three types of photoreceptors, known as trichromatic. That means three types of photoreceptor cells for seeing three different colors (blue, green, and ultraviolet). The three can combine to give the bee the ability to see different color combinations.
Each of the more than 4000 lenses perceives a unique aspect of the surroundings, and these are compounded to create one image for the bee to have a clear image of what is around it.
However, although both the bee and human eye have trichromatic photoreceptors, a human being has about 1.5 million photoreceptors, meaning that a bee does not see as clear as what a human sees. The bees cannot see too far, and they need to zoom in to see clearer. It means the bee needs to be as close as possible to an object to see it clearly.
Enough about the bee’s compound eyes, let’s now consider the other set of eyes.
Bees also have three smaller eyes, and these are located on top of the head. The term used for these eyes is ocelli. It is not easy to know these are eyes because of their small size. Grasshoppers also have the same type of eyes on top of their heads. Ocelli are found in many other insects such as ants, wasps, dragonflies, among many others.
Unlike the compound eyes, the ocelli do not give the bee visual insights but serve a different role. Ocelli are primarily for navigation when in flight and positioning in the air. To achieve this, the ocelli detect light levels. The intensity of the light is what the bee uses to judge its elevation and know its location.
Based on what the ocelli help the bee see, the bee can adjust its flight angle accordingly and fly either towards the sun or away from the sun, depending on whether it was heading to or away from the hive. By flying on the same flight path it had earlier flown on when going to forage for food, the bee can use the same information to get back home successfully.
An interesting aspect about bees’ eyes is that the compound eyes have hair growing on them, yet this does not stop them from seeing. On the contrary, the hair growing all over the bee’s body, including its eyes, helps the bee during foraging. For more information about the bee`s eyes, read on here!
If humans were to have hair growing out of their eyes, they would certainly be unable to see, and it would be a serious health condition. How amazing these tiny insects are.
What Can Bees See?
As mentioned earlier, bees see objects and colors because they have photoreceptors. Like in human beings, seeing requires light to be first reflected from an object, and the same concept applies to bees. The difference comes in the wavelengths of light that are reflected from different objects.
Different types of objects reflect different amounts of light. Human beings can only perceive lights whose wavelength falls between 390 and 750 nanometers. To the human eye, the different wavelengths appear as different colors after combinations in the eye.
The bees have a unique range of vision; theirs is within 300 to 650 nanometers perception of wavelengths. The unique range gives bee the superpower of seeing ultraviolet light that humans cannot see. The ability to see ultraviolet light makes it easy for the bees to locate the best flowers rich in nectar rather than waste time wandering from flower to flower before locating the right one.
To humans, flowers are just flowers, but each flower has its own unique patterns imprinted on the petals and it is these that the bee sees. Bees can use these patterns to know which flowers are richer in nectar and pollen for making honey, and it is on these flowers that they land.
Are Bees Blind At Night?
Of course, bees do not turn blind at night in the complete sense of the word because they still have their eyes open in darkness; however, they cannot see in total darkness.
For this reason, most bees, among them honey bees, forage for food during the day and return to the hive when night sets in. But not all bees are day foragers; the ones that forage during the day are mostly European honey bees.
Some bee species are uniquely blessed to operate at night, such as the Africanized bee. Such species prefer to forage at night. But this is understandable considering that such species are mostly found in hot climatic regions where daytime temperatures are often too high to allow foraging. The bees thus opt to forage at night when temperatures are much more conducive.
Even though most bees cannot see in total darkness, they have a mechanism that protects them from being entirely helpless in pitch darkness. Remember that even the beehive, when it is closed shut, inside it is usually very dark, yet the bees can still carry out their normal activities unhindered. In the absence of light, the bees resort to using other senses such as touch and smell, especially in the hive where it is quite dark.
Here are unique things about bees that have evolved to fly and operate at night;
- The majority of the bees that fly at night are tropical species whose tropical climate hinders them from flying during the day.
- In tropical climates, some flowers open during the night, and it is from these flowers that night flying bees forage at night. At night there is even less competition from other insects such as butterflies for the nectar and pollen.
- The eyes of bees flying at night have developed to make it easier for the bee to navigate in low light. Their ocelli (the smaller set of eyes on top of the head) are much larger to reflect more light and help the bee know its position despite the darkness.
- Bees flying out at night do not do so in total darkness; they seem to prefer the moonlight or venture out during twilight hours when there is some little light.
- Other special types of bees are not bothered by moonlight or not; they can still maneuver in total darkness, such as the Indian carpenter bee. It has no problem flying around in total darkness.
Which Colors Are Bees Blind To?
The range of wavelengths of light that human beings can see is very different from that which bees can see. The difference impacts even the color that each of them can see.
For bees, their compound eye has photoreceptors that perceive light within the 300 to 650 nanometers of wavelength. This alone robs them of the ability to see some colors, especially red.
Bees cannot see the color red because it is not in their vision spectrum. Therefore, bees are color blind to red.
You may feel sorry for them but hold your sympathy for the bees because they also can see a color that human beings cannot see: ultraviolet light.
Human beings see three main colors and all other colors are a combination of the three: red, green, and blue; for the bees, their combination is green, blue, and ultraviolet.
Therefore, bees can see other new colors that humans cannot see, such as bee purple, which is a combination of yellow and purple.
On top of seeing ultraviolet light, bees can also see polarized light. The unique ability of bees to see different colors is not for flexing but for locating flowers easily and helping them survive and fly back to the hive uneventfully and without losing their way. For more information about the bees see and color range, read on here!
Despite their smaller size, bees have one unique advantage as far as their perception is concerned, they can detect moving objects faster than the human eye can. That is also to help them identify the best flowers and also avoid becoming victims of predators.
What Color Do Bees Hate?
Although bees are attracted to colorful flowers, not all colors are attractive to them. Some colors are unattractive to bees, and they respond to other colors with aggression, and in case you are wearing clothes of these colors, you are in danger of being stung if you encounter a bee.
Bees hate red and dark colors. In reality, bees perceive red as black, and so they hate black colors.
Bees hate red and dark colors such as black because of what they associate it with. In the wild, under natural conditions, most predators targeting beehives usually have dark-colored fur.
If a bee encounters you and you are wearing a red or dark-colored cloth, you will be perceived as a potential attacker by the bee, and you can be stung. If you will be spending time outdoors, avoid such clothes and also clothes with a fuzzy texture. Opt for ones that are brighter and have a smoother texture.
Why Do Beekeepers Wear White?
If you are keen, you will notice that most beekeeping suits come in bright colors, and not just any color but white and yellowish colors. Do you want to know the reason why the color white is the most preferred for beekeepers?
So that the bees do not perceive them wrongly as predators.
White decreases the chances of being stung because the white color does not aggravate the bees.
- So that it becomes easy to notice if any of the bees got stuck on them and avoid taking them back with the beekeeper.
- White is good for reflecting away heat and sunlight, keeping the beekeeper cool inside the suit even if they are working outside for long hours.
If you are making your beekeeping suit, pick bright colors and especially white.