How do bee’s “see” flowers?

Bees get to see in the ultraviolet world.  We can use photographic techniques to mimic that world, but all resulting colors are approximations of what a bee MIGHT see.  (More photos by scientist-cameraman Bjorn Roslett can be found at his web site  (click on Infrared in the left side menu

Infrared and standard image of crocus By Bjorn Roslett (

We can never see colors the way bees see them.

  • Bees see “primary colors” as blue, green and ultraviolet
  • They can distinguish yellow, orange, blue-green, violet, purple, as combinations of their three primary colors.
  • Humans see “primary colors” as red, blue, and green
  • We can distinguish about 60 other colors as combinations of our three primary colors.

Bear in mind that not all the studies agree on the exact colors or preferences bees see, but they all agree red is black

Some studies propose that honeybees see orange, yellow, and green as one color (green in that group surprised me).   Blue, violet and purple are seen as a second color.

Ultraviolet being their third color.

Honeybees Do Not See Red

It’s not that they don’t get angry (as in “to see red”), but honeybees see the color red as black.

Their Favorite Colors?

Their favorites are said by some to be: purple, then violet, then blue (which all look different to them).   I could not find the study that came to this conclusion, but I like it, as my favorite colors are purple, violet, and then blue.

How Do We Know All This?

We don’t know it all; studies vary.  However:

Bee’s color sense was partially demonstrated by Karl von Frisch.  In 1915, he showed that bees could discern green, yellow, orange, blue, violet, and purple.  He did this by using colored cards and bee feed.  He imprinted the bees with the idea that feed could be found on a blue card, but not the other colors.  When he removed the feed, the bees still went to the blue card.  He then tried this with green, yellow, orange, violet, purple and red.  The only color it did NOT work with was red.

In 1927, Professor A. Kuhn took the study of honeybees’ color sense further.  He tested bees using the visible spectrum for humans, but also used longer and shorter wavelengths : the ultraviolet and infrared.  The infrared was black to the bees, but ultraviolet was a color.

You CAN Try This At Home

A very nice PowerPoint presentation at this Link from the University of Nebraska, will walk you though an experiment on which colors in our visible spectrum honeybees can see.  Sorry, there’s no test for ultraviolet.

Information courtesy Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey Blog

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