Can bees see colors we can’t?

Color is a by-product of sunlight. It stems from the fact that visible light contains all the colors of a rainbow.

In other words, visible light is part of a larger spectrum of energy. Bees can see ultraviolet – a color humans can only imagine – at the short-wavelength end of the spectrum. So it’s true that bees can see ‘colors’ we can’t.

Many flowers have ultraviolet patterns on their petals, so bees can see these patterns. They use them as visual guides – like a map painted on the flower – directing them to the flower’s store of nectar. Some flowers that appear non-descript to us have strong ultraviolet patterns.

But being a bee doesn’t necessarily mean you live in a more colorful world. Bees can’t see red – at the longer wavelength end of the spectrum – while humans can. To a bee, red looks black.

Bees’ eyes are different from our eyes in other ways as well. For example, honeybees can perceive movements that are separated by 1/300th of a second. So if a bee flew into a movie theater, it could differentiate each individual movie frame being projected.

Also, every bee has five different eyes. Three are simple eyes that discern light intensity. Two are large compound eyes used to detect movement. Each of these eyes contains almost 7,000 lenses!

June 29, 2008

Like what you read?
Subscribe and receive daily news delivered to your inbox.

Your email address will only be used for EarthSky content. Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More from 

Editors of EarthSky

View All