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Bee on a sunflower

Hey, 5 eyes! 5 facts about honey bees’ eyes

Bees are very important to our eco-system. Without them, around 70% of the world’s crops would fail. So how exactly do bees know which plants to pollinate?

Bees have 5 eyes (Tweet this)

If you’ve ever been brave enough to get up really close to a bee, you might notice three black dots on the top of its head. Believe it or not, these are actually eyes!

As well as two large eyes either side of its head, a bee has three “simple” or “ocelli” eyes on the top of its head. These detect light (but not shapes), meaning that a bee can detect if it is being approached from above by a predator.

Bees eyes

The two large eyes either side of its head are made up of lots tiny lenses that each piece together a wider image of what the bee can see (this is known as a compound eye). These eyes specialise in seeing patterns, which can help identify plant types and other bees.

Bees eyes are hairy (Tweet this)

A bee’s two larger eyes have tiny hairs growing on them. It is believed that the hairs detect wind direction, so the bee can stay on course in windy conditions, and help a bee navigate.

Bee's hairy eyes close up

Bees use the sun to navigate (Tweet this)
It is thought that bees use the sun to navigate. They can see polarised light (light that has travelled through a filter, such as clouds), which means they can see the sun, even if it’s very cloudy.

Bee navigating

-Did you know?

Bees dance to show each other where food can be found? Food close by is indicated by a “round dance”. Not particularly complicated, a scout bee’s “round dance” consists of loops in alternating directions. As the food is close by, the bees will be able to smell it. When food is further away, a scout bee conducts a “waggle dance”. This involves the bee running in various directions, depending on where the food can be found in relation to the sun. As the dance goes on, the bee adjusts the direction in line with the sun’s movements.

Bees can detect motion in as little as 1/300th of a second (Tweet this)

A field of flowers might seem still to us humans, but bees are likely to be able to see them swaying in the smallest breeze. That’s because bees have adapted to be very sensitive to movement, even if that movement occurs in 1/300th of a second. Humans can only detect movement happening for longer than 1/50th of a second.

Field of pink flowers

Bees can see ultraviolet light (Tweet this)
Bees can see some colours, and they have very different colour vision than humans. Their eyes are more sensitive to blue and purple. They can see ultraviolet light, which is advantageous as flowers reflect large amounts of ultraviolet light. This makes flowers look very bright against their surroundings, making them stand out to a bee. They can’t see the colour red.

-It is thought that bees’ favourite colours are purple, violet, and blue. That may explain why “bee-friendly” flowers tend to be these colours. As examples, lavender and forget-me-nots are blue and purple.

Bees flying above lavender flowers

Why not plant some bee friendly plants today, to make the humble bumble bee’s job a little easier?