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Bee Vision

May 13, 2010

Bees expend considerable energy on super-high-speed color vision.


Bees’ speedy vision. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Most flying insects can see motion much faster than humans can. That’s why houseflies, for example, are so hard to swat. But less is known about color vision, which involves different visual receptors. Peter Skorupski and Lars Chittka of Queen Mary University of London decided to look at bees. Skorupski explains that although bees use color vision to identify flowers, having unnecessarily fast color vision could waste precious energy.

PETER SKORUPSKI (Queen Mary University of London):
So from an evolutionary perspective, you wouldn’t really expect an animal to make that investment unless there was a strong reason for it.

They found that bees’ color vision receptors were slower than their basic receptors, but still fast compared to those of humans or even other insects. That suggests that bees may use color to make split-second navigation decisions, and not just to tell roses from tulips. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.