Bee Vision

Bees have compound eyes each eye being made up of thousands of individual lens. They can also distinguish colours but the spectral range is slightly different to humans being shifted from the red, i.e. they cannot distinguish between shades of red, but they can see different shades in the ultraviolet not visible to humans – their vision spectrum is shifted to the UV relative to that of humans. Certain flowers have evolved to exploit the ‘special’ spectral range of vision of the bee through the development of UV pigments which are patterned to attract the bee pollinator. A flower that looks uniformly yellow to us has a ‘bull’s eye’ pattern that lures the bee onto it, thereby helping the flower cross pollinate.

The world of UV colour photography – Bjorn Rorslett site for more UV pictures.

Much of the early scientific work on the colour vision of bees and on their dance communications was carried out by the pioneering austrian scientist, Karl von Frisch who was awarded the Nobel prize along with others for the this work in 1973. Another interesting aspect of bee vision is that they can sense polarization of light or see polarization patterns. The atmosphere and clouds scatter light from the sun and just like light reflected from a water surface, the light becomes polarized. One outcome of the polarization of light due to scattering is that even on a cloudy day when the sun is not visible, there will always be a ‘bright spot’ in the shy when viewed through a polarizer at a point on the celestial arc which is at a position exactly 90 degrees to the sun position. Thus bees, with their polarized vision, can see this bright spot even on a cloudy day and use it to navigate

Cloudy Day Bright Spot

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