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Honey Bee Eyes: More than 2?

The eyes of bees are very different than those of humans or other mammals. Not only do they help the insect see objects, they also aid in orientation and navigation. All types of bees have 5 eyes. The same is true for many flies and wasps. Capable of flying through the air at speeds of 20 mph, honey bees rely on good eyesight to perform their everyday tasks.

Simple and Compound Bee Eyes

Macro shot of honey bee head and eyes image.

Even though, a honey bee has 5 eyes, they do not all perform in the same way. There are two distinct sets of eyes that help interpret the bee’s world.

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Located on the top of their head are 3 simple eyes called Ocelli – (from the Latin word “ocellus – little eye”). Ocelli are not noticed unless you look very closely. Each of the small eyes has only 1 lens.

They are arranged in a triangular pattern (2 dorsal and 1 central) and resembled 3 little dots. This enables the bee to easily view the horizon and horizon line as the day begins and ends.

Simple eyes do not form pictures in the way we think of normal sight. They are primarily light sensors and help the honey bee navigate using the position of the sun.

Easily recognizable are the 2 large compound eyes found on the side of their head. Compound eyes – as their name implies – consist of thousands of tiny “micro-eyes” called ommatidium. These tiny lenses are groups of photoreceptors that interpretate the world from different angles.

If you could see through the eyes of a honey bee, the image would look much like a puzzle or mosaic with many pieces. Nerves connect the ommatidium to the brain where the information is interpreted into an image that the bee understands.

Macro of honey bee head with compound and simple eyes labeled image.

Eyesight of Bees

Honey bees easily see movement in any direction due to the facets on the curved surface of the compound eyes. They can also see patterns, shapes and colors. The ability to see polarized light helps them fly quickly across the landscape and locate nectar rich flowers.

Because bees can see ultraviolet light, this helps them located flowers that produce pollen or nectar. They are also very sensitive to blue and purple.

Over time, most flowers have evolved to be attractive to pollinating insects. Many have nectar guides that are only visible with UV light.

Honey bees collect the resources needed for the colony during the daylight hours. But some bees are “crepuscular” and prefer to forage during the night. They have larger ocelli to help them detect small variations in light.

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Vision of a Drone Bee

There is a noticeable difference among the eyesight of the various bees in a hive. Worker bees have about 6900 facets (or lenses) in their compound eyes. Each facet has one lens attached to an ommatidium that processes signals to the brain.

Drones are the male bees of the colony. Because they do no work, one might think their eyesight would not be as good as workers. This is not true! Drones have 8600 facets in their eyes – a measurable amount more than the worker.

Why is eyesight so important to a drone honey bees? He needs excellent sight to spot virgin queens flying in the air. Mating takes place outside the hive – high in the air. These special mating spaces are called drone congregation areas.

Male honey bee with large compound eyes image.

Do Bee Eyes Have Hair?

Another amazing fact about the eyes of honey bees is the small hair that grows on their eyeballs. The tiny hairs grow out from between the ommatidium. Even though there is still some mystery surrounding the purpose of this hair, it is believed to be there to help keep the eye lenses clean.

Hairy eyes also helps bees measure the wind speed and direction. This aids them in returning to the hive even in windy conditions that might blow a tiny bee off course.

You will often see bees cleaning their eyes and antenna before taking flight. This removes any pollen particles that may have stuck to their fuzzy body.

FAQs about Bee Eyes

What color are bee eyes?

Honey bee eyes are black but other types of insects show great variety in eye color. You will find blue, orange and even green insect eyes.

Are honey bees color blind?

Because bees see colors in a different way than humans, some people think that bees are colorblind. This is not true.

They can perceive color but cannot see as far into the red spectrum as humans. To a honey bee, the color red looks black.

What kind of eyes do Bumblebees have?

Like many other insects, Bumblebees also have 5 eyes. Three simple eyes to detect light and 2 compound eyes.

The simple and compound eyes of the honey bee help it navigate the world. Millions of flowers must be visited to collect all the resources needed by the colony. A remarkable feat for a tiny insect wouldn’t you agree?

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