What Does A Bee See? thumbnail image

What Does A Bee See?

Bees rely on their incredible sense of sight to navigate their world and perform their duties to the colony. Bees primarily need powerful vision to find flowers, which are their main food source. But what do bees see, and how do their sights compare to that of humans?

It’s hard to imagine seeing the world through different eyes. As bees buzz about their lives, they see different colors, light intensity, and details compared to the human gaze. This unique vision helps them find nectar-rich flowers and navigate the world around their hive.

If you’ve ever wondered how bees see the world, check out this guide for the answer.

How Does a Bee See?

Bees see with their five eyes. They have three smaller ocelli on top of their heads and two large, more prominent ones on either side. Each of these larger eyes is called a compound eye.

The Ocelli Help Honey Bees Find Light

The ocelli sit at the center of the top of the bee’s head. These ocelli have single lenses that measure light intensity. Its primary function is to help the bee find a light source and orient itself as it navigates the world.

The Compound Eye Helps Honey Bees See Color

Each compound eye, which sits on either side of the bee’s head, is made of thousands of tiny lenses. Each of these lenses, known as facets, captures a small part of the bee’s vision, which the brain then stitches together to compose a full picture of what it sees.

What Are facets?

Facets are the main component of the bee’s eyes that lets them see color. It also allows them to see things at an extremely wide angle. These facets are responsible for the bee’s sharp vision.

A typical worker bee can have 6,900 facets, while a drone bee can have up to 8,600 facets, which it will need to locate the queen bee during its mating flight.

Bees are not the only insects in the animal kingdom with five eyes. This characteristic is commonly shared by hornets, wasps, dragonflies, and grasshoppers.

Bees Have Unique Color Vision

While both a human’s eyes and a bee’s eyes have the same function, they operate slightly differently.

Bee Vision Range vs. Human Vision Range

Like humans, bees are trichromatic. Bee eyes contain three photoreceptors. The bee’s vision is based on the three colors these photoreceptors can read.

But unlike humans—whose color vision is based on red, blue, and green— the vision of a honey bee is based on blue, green, and ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light has shorter wavelengths and is generally invisible to the human eye.

Bees see approximately 300 to 650 nanometers of the light spectrum, while humans can see 390 to 750 nanometers. So while bees can’t see the color red, they can see ultraviolet light at its range of 100 to 400 nanometers.

Bees Can See Polarized Light

Bees can see polarized light too! Polarized light is a kind of light whose vibrations occur in a single plane. The amazing bees’ eyes can scan the sky for polarization patterns in the atmosphere. They can use this to obtain location information which they relay back to the colony.

Being able to see and locate polarized light allows a honey bee to find its way around even when there’s no sunlight.

Do Bees Bee All Colors?

As explained above, bees are not able to see all colors. A bee’s eyes are simply not equipped to see the color red, although they can see reddish wavelengths like yellow and orange. However, they can see ultraviolet light, which is out of the range of human sight.

How Honey Bees Use Their Vision

To a honey bee, ultraviolet light reveals patterns on certain flower petals. Humans can’t see these patterns, but a honey bee’s eyes can see and use these nectar guides as a sort of landing strip to find nectar-rich flowers. This also means that bees are better at finding specific types of flowers, even in a field of similar shapes and colors. They can see far more unique details on flowers than humans can.

Thanks to the bees’ eyes' ability to easily see and distinguish light and dark, they are adept at identifying edges and the different shapes of flowers.

Are Bees Near-Sighted?

While a honey bee has much faster image processing speeds than humans, it cannot see very far.

A honey bee is nearsighted. Although efficient and powerful, the amazing compound eye of a bee is rigid, and its focal focus is fixed, which means it cannot adjust its focus depending on the distance of the object it’s directed at. Beyond a certain reach, a bee will start to see the object as a pixelated blur. The farther an object is, the harder it is for a bee to see.

Being nearsighted organisms might seem like a disadvantage, but they compensate for this by having an extraordinary ability to see things while in motion.

Bees See Objects Fast

Bees see and process colors at ultra-fast speed. In fact, they see the world five times faster than humans. They detect movements using the 4,000 to 7,000 facets located in their compound eyes. As a result, they can see movements that happen at 1/300th of a second—way more advanced than what humans see at only 1/50th of a second.

This super-speed ability allows them to escape predators, catch their mates mid-air, and navigate the environment around them to find food. Furthermore, this helps them calculate the distance and remember the location of certain foraging spots.

Bees See the World at a Wide Angle

In addition to being able to see the world quickly, a honey bee also has the advantage of seeing a much wider field of vision. Bees can see things almost panoramically at 280 degrees. Comparably, humans can only see up to 180 degrees.

Most bee species are diurnal, meaning they are active only during the day. However, a very small percentage of bees exhibit nocturnal activities or are generally active at night. Many of these nocturnal bees are tropical species, and they gather nectar and pollen from flowers that remain open during the night time.

How Do Bees See at Night?

Bees that can navigate at night have the same seeing apparatus as their diurnal cousins, although slightly evolved. They also have five eyes, but the ocelli of these bees are larger in proportion to their bodies. These bee species are called crepuscular, meaning they can see with the little light available at night.

Navigating through light is not the only way bees can see the world around them.

Bees Can Detect Electromagnetic Fields

In addition to some unique mechanisms in honey bees’ eyes, they also detect electromagnetic fields, which they also use to locate adequate food sources.

As a bee flies, they become positively charged. This allows pollen to stick to them easily. When they cannot detect this charge, the bees indicate that the flower’s nectar and pollen have already been harvested.

Bees Communicate via Pheromones

In addition, they communicate with each other using pheromones, which help them find food and identify friendlies and threats.

Bees Communicate by Dance

Besides these, bees may dance to show another bee the location of a food source. If a food source is detected nearby, they perform an uncomplicated routine called a “round dance.” This dance involves the scout bee performing loops in alternative directions.

However, it performs a “waggle” dance if the food source is farther away. This special dance occurs on a dance floor near a honeycomb entrance. Only honey bees with news of a particularly rich nectar source can perform the dance. This waggle dance consists of doing a figure-eight pattern, a walk between loops, and an irregular wing flutter.

Why Do Honey Bees Have Hairy Eyes?

Not all bee species have hairy eyes, but honey bees certainly do! A honey bee’s entire body is covered with hair, including its eyes. But why is that so?

The main reason for honey bees’ fuzzy bodies is that they get covered in pollen when they visit flowers. And yes, the pollen does get stuck in their eyes. Having hair even on their eyes prevents the pollen from directly sticking to the surface of a honey bee’s eyes.

Honey bees regularly have to clean their eyes by transferring the pollen from their eye hairs to their hind legs.

Unique Eyesight for a Unique Purpose

Like many animals, bees evolved to fulfill a specific role in nature. The bee’s unique eyesight and seeing apparatus also evolved to help them perform this role in the best way possible. As nature’s primary pollinators, bees see the world in, quite literally, a different light. But it’s this unique adaptation that lets them perform what only they do best.

Explore the Fascinating Lives of Bees

You can learn more about bees’ fascinating lives and their tremendous impact on our environment, as well as how to procure your own starter beehives, by visiting Mann Lake. We have everything a budding bee enthusiast needs.