Bees are known for their pollination of millions of flowers across the globe, according to scientific data collected by the USDA 80% of insect pollination is attributed to bees. But to get to the flowers, bees use their perception of scent and mostly vision.
Have you ever wondered how bees are able to see things including humans and flowers? This article will blow your mind on details surrounding bees’ eyes.
Although it sounds crazily odd, bees actually have five eyes. Two among the five eyes on a bee which are also the largest are the compound eyes, and three of the eyes are located at the center of the head and known as ocelli eyes although these are usually smaller.
How Do Bees See?
Humans rely heavily on bees to survive. Without the crucial job of pollination carried out by bees, there would be no such fruits such as avocados, oranges, apples, blueberries, cherries and many others. They are the world’s best pollinators. But their success is because of the power of their sight.
Scientists have been fascinated by the vision of this small creature and a lot of research has been dedicated to understanding how they are able to see.
The first thing you need to know is that it has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that bees can see different colors. Part of the reason bees are drawn to flowers is that most flowers are brightly colored.
Bees can even see ultraviolet light to make it easy for them to collect nectar. Flowers have patterns undetectable to the human eye, but which bees can see and follow to their advantage. Different patterns can help the bees to know which flower has the most nectar and pollen.
Bees also have a wide-angle of vision, they can see within a radius of 280 degrees. Giving them the advantage of seeing more at the same time.
Which Colors Do Bees See Best?
Bees are similar to humans in terms of the photoreceptors in their eyes which enables them to detect different colors. Their speed of detection of color is the fastest among all animals, a feature that adds to their superpower eyesight.
Just like in humans, the photoreceptors in bees are also three. For humans, the colors these receptors allow them to see are red, blue and green but for bees their receptors allow them to see ultraviolet light, blue and green.
What this means is that bees cannot detect the color red since they do not a receptor for it. However, they can see reddish wavelengths of yellow and orange.
According to detailed research, the best colors for bees’ sight are purple, violet and blue.
Bees also have the special ability to see and differentiating different flowers while moving at high speeds, something humans cannot do. It allows them to pollinate even flowers that are moving. Read a more thorough article on what color bees can see, by clicking here!
How Many Eyes Does A Bee Have?
Although bees are small-bodied and it seems from elementary science, their bodies encompass only head thorax and abdomen, they are quite complex in reality.
A bee has five eyes in total but they are of two types. The first type is the compound eyes which are obvious to anyone because of their large size and the other type is known as the ocelli. Each type serves its own unique function.
The Bee’s Compound Eyes
If you were to look at a bee and asked to identify its eyes, these would be the most obvious because of its large size. The compound eyes of the bee are located on the side of its head.
In some insects, the compound eyes face the front, but for the bee, they face the opposite sides.
Each compound eye has thousands of lenses independent from each other. The role of these eyes is to absorb information regarding the immediate surrounding including the colors and shapes.
The bee is able to see the Ultraviolet patterns on different flowers and these eyes guide the bee to the best spot to land on the flower for the collection of nectar and pollen.
The different lenses, give the bee a unique perspective from different angles helping the bee to gauge depth and also see from a three-dimensional viewpoint.
The sum total of these lenses helps the bee to have an accurate picture of where it is at any one point.
The ocellus is a fancy word meaning little eyes borrowed from the Latin language.
Ocelli are three small eyes located at the top of the head of the bee. They each have one single lens and are useful for maintaining stability and navigation, but with many sensory cells.
The bee uses the ocelli to perceive light intensity depending on the sun’s position and cloud cover and remain on course without becoming disoriented.
Bees that prefer to fly at dusk or dawn tend to have large ocelli given the reduced light during this time.
When you look at a bee, the ocelli will appear like tiny black dots on the head of the bee. Other insects such as grasshoppers and wasps also do have them.
Why Do Bees Need Five Eyes?
Most animals have two eyes and these seem to work out for them just fine, why is it that bees need so many eyes? As you will discover, there is a very logical explanation for this phenomenon.
You will realize that bees have to do several things at the same time. They need to forage for food and detect the best flowers for collecting nectar while at the same time they must remain airborne while processing all this information.
Locating the flowers entails seeing the Ultraviolet light patterns on the flower petals and navigation involves moving about in the midst of different types of weather conditions such as wind or avoiding predators.
The two sets of eyes thus come in handy to help the bee do both sets of activities efficiently and safely.
The compound eyes detect the Ultraviolet patterns on flowers, while the ocelli help them to fly around safely without bumping into things such as walls or trees.
Amazing Facts about the Bee Eyes
Here are some amazing facts about the eyes and vision of these little friends. Their eyes are their superpower, for it enables them to do their daily actives fast and without hindrance pollinating millions of flowers in the process and producing wonderful honey for humans.
- All bees have 5 eyes
If you encounter a bee close up, pay attention and you will see both the compound eyes on the side of the head and ocelli eyes at the top of the head.
The ocelli detect light changes and help the bee avoid a predator approaching from above while the large eyes have lenses that form one clear image helping it see and detect patterns for identification of different plants and fellow bees.
- Eyes of a bee are hairy
The compound eyes have hair on them, whose purpose is to detect changes in wind direction and speed for easier navigation.
The hairs on a bee’s eyes also serve another purpose, which is to help the bee carry pollen.
Research has found that the distance between the hairs on the eyes of a honey bee is equivalent to the size of dandelion pollen grains, a favorite delicacy. This phenomenon allows the bee to keep the pollen on its body, although it remains suspended on its hairs so as not to interfere with its vision.
A bee can carry up to 30 percent of its total body weight of pollen on this eye hair alone. Amazing!
- Bees navigate by the help of the sun
In addition to the hairy eyes, the sun also plays a vital role in helping the bee find its way. Bees see polarized light (meaning it is light that has been filtered through the clouds). Even if it is cloudy, the light will still help them steer and locate their hive.
This is what enables bees to return home after foraging for nectar and pollen.
- The bee’s eyes helps it detect even the slightest motion (up to 1/300th of a second)
Humans have no such capability. Even the slightest movement of an object is detectable for the bee. What seems like a still flower garden to humans, may seem like swaying flowers to a bee. The sensitivity to the slightest movement is what enables bees to suck nectar from flowers without landing on them or in windy conditions.
Compared to humans whose sensitivity is for movement up to 1/50th of a second, bees are able to avoid predatory attacks. It is what makes it hard for you to swat a bee.
- Bees see ultraviolet light
Bees have the ability to detect different colors although not all because they have color vision particularly purple and blue. They however cannot see the color red.
Their eyes also have the ability to see ultraviolet light. The ability to see UV light is crucial in locating flowers full of nectar. Flowers radiate a lot of UV light, and bees are able to see different patterns on flowers and analyze this information to see which flowers are the best option. UV light makes flowers stand out and look very appealing to bees.
- Bees perceive dark colors as a threat
Bees are unable to detect the color red because of the nature of the eyes. Red, together with black and brown all appear dark to the bee and this is perceived as a threat.
It is for this reason that scientists advise people to avoid wearing dark colors if they are going out for a hike or will spend much time outdoors. Also, most protective suits are brightly colored to avoid making the bees unnecessarily angry during harvesting or hive inspection.
If you want to spend much time outside, wear white, cream, grey or tan. Light-colored cloth is friendlier to the bees and safer for you.
- Bees see the unique dancing style of other bees to receive certain information
Bees at times communicate with one another through dancing. Different dancing styles communicate different messages.
A bee may perform a round dance to inform her peers of the availability of forage nearby. If the food is further away, the bee performs a wiggle dance. Wiggling her bottom in the direction of the food relative to the sun.
When other bees see the dancing of a scout bee, they are informed of what is happening. Sometimes they are made aware of an imminent threat to the hive and jump into action.
- Different bees have different colored eyes
While most bees have black eyes, not all bees have this color for the eyes. Some have even blue eyes for example digger bees and carpenter bees.
Some bees have green eyes such as the male leafcutter bees.
- Bees are near sighted
Bees do not have the ability to see very far because of the tiny lenses in their compound eyes. They are only able to see within their immediate environment.
However, that does not make them more vulnerable, since they can process images 15 times faster than humans. What may appear as even fluorescent light to a human may appear as flickering light to a bee.
- Some bees have specialized eyes for flying and foraging in low light.
Different bees have eyes uniquely suited to their foraging habits. Some prefer to forage at night while others forage early in the day. Each type of bee has eyes uniquely suited to its patterns.
Can Bees See Humans?
Honey bees can be trained to recognize people from biology experiments. By being shown a series of faces printed as black and white and given the incentive of tasty or sour rewards, bees showed an ability to detect and remember individual human faces.
It is quite impressive that bees can remember faces given the size of their tiny brain, which is 1/20,000 when compared to that of a human being.
That information can be applied and used in biometric systems.
It is indeed mind-blowing to know about bee vision. You could literally say that bees have a superpower kind of vision.