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Can Bees See Colour?

Written By Sara Sabharwal

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With so many bees flying around beautifully coloured flowers, you have to wonder if bees have a favourite colour. It is common for gardens with lots of purple flowers to be called “bee havens”, so is purple their favourite? Can bees see colours of all shades?

Yes, bees can see colour. In fact, they are the fastest at seeing colour in the entire animal kingdom! While bees really do prefer cooler shades like blue, violet, and purple, bees can see a much wider range of colours, including ultraviolet light. 

What Colours Do Bees See?

Humans and bees both are trichromatic. Meaning that each eye has three photoreceptors which the eye combines to make all the other colours that we see. For humans, our three colours are red, blue, and green. This is why we can see most of the colour scale. 

Bees can see almost as many colours as us but have the unique ability to see a few colours that the human eye cannot.

Bees see in ultraviolet, green, and blue. Human eyes cannot see ultraviolet light, giving bees an edge at finding pollen in plants.

Bees can see blue-green, blue, violet, and a combination of yellow and ultraviolet light. This combination is called “bee’s yellow” as bees are one of the only insects able to see this precise colour. 

What Colours are Invisible to Bees?

Bees are anatomically perfect for pollinating flowers. Even though they cannot see the same colour spectrum as humans, they can see special colours that help them find pollen easily and even in flight. 

Since bees do not have the red photoreceptor as humans do, they cannot see red. Interestingly, bees can see red wavelength colours like yellow or orange. 

It would be silly to think that bees could not see colours or flowers clearly while in flight. After all, they spend a good amount of time flying from their hive to gardens and back throughout the day.

Bees can see colour five times faster than humans. In fact, bees can see colours faster than any other animal in the world. 

When humans see a patch of flowers, we have a hard time telling the flowers apart. Bees do not. They can see each individual flower, petal, and stem.

Some flowers have petals that change colours to bees depending on the angle that the bee is looking at them. Flowers with this iridescent colouring are more attractive to bees which is why this flower gets pollinated over other flowers. 

Can Bees See Red?

No, bees do not see red as we do. Instead, they see red as black in colour which is why they are often not drawn in by red flowers.

Can Bees See White?

Yes, bees can see white but not as we see it. If they look at a flower that is white to us, they will see it as a shade of blue or green.

Can Bees See Yellow?

Yes, yellow is a colour that bees can see fairly clearly. A bee’s primary colours are blue, green and ultraviolet. They can combine these to make up yellow. Although the yellow we see has a green hue to it for bees.

What Colours are Bees Most Attracted to? 

Since bees can see iridescent colours that we cannot see, it may lead you to wonder what other colours are bees attracted to? We know that bees are attracted to the iridescent sheen of petals because bees associate that colouring with sugar and food. 

We cannot see the exciting and attractive shine of the petals, so what can we plant to attract bees to our garden?

If you are looking for what colour flowers to plant to attract the most bees, go for cool colours. Bees are most attracted to purple, violet, and blue, according to scientists. This is why they love lavender so much!

Want to Attract Bees to Your Garden?

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What Colours are Bees Least Attracted to?

Bees cannot see red hues as they do not have the photoreceptors to produce the colour in their eyes. Red actually comes across as black to bees. Black is hardly a colour that will attract bees naturally.

If you want to plant flowers in your garden but, for some reason, do not want an influx of bees, plant reddish flowers. 

Marigolds, tulips, day lilies, chrysanthemums, and pink carnations are all great additions to your garden to add colour… But they won’t attract many bees. 

It is also said that wearing dark colours increases your risk of being stung by a bee. While wearing white (beekeeper suits), tan, or other light and bright colours can help decrease that possibility. 

Summary

Bees have amazing eyesight. They are able to quickly identify colour, see in three dimensions, see ultraviolet light, and even differentiate flowers in a patch quickly and efficiently.

Bees, like humans, are trichromatic when it comes to seeing colour. While humans see red, blue, and green, bees see ultraviolet light, green, and blue. Since they do not have the red photoreceptor, they cannot see red. Instead, they see red and darker colours as black.

If you want to create a garden full of bees, avoid planting red or dark coloured flowers. 

Bees love flowers in the blue and purple family of colours. Many studies have shown that violet coloured flowers tend to have the most pollen, which may be why bees are the most attracted to them.

Whether or not that is true for your region, you cannot go wrong by planting blue or purple flowers in your bee garden this season.


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