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  • BeeLine for Color

Photonics Spectra
Dec 2005
Bees have long been the subject of biological interest, not only because they are makers of that prized natural commodity, honey, but also because of their remarkable ability to navigate. Previous research on how bees see has shown that the insects demonstrate color constancy; i.e., they can discriminate among flower colors against a uniform background even when the lighting changes.

Now, investigators at University College London have proved bee vision to be even more sophisticated: The creatures can discern colors under multiple lighting tones at the same time.

The scientists used rewards to train bumblebees to seek out certain colored flowers from a group of artificial ones. When the researchers rearranged the flowers and showed them under four colors of light simultaneously, the bees consistently zeroed in on the target flowers.


In an experiment to determine how well bees process color information, an insect homes in on an artificial flower. Image reprinted by permission from PNAS.

Reporting in the Oct. 31 online edition of PNAS, the scientists said that this shows that bees can recognize color in complex natural environments and can encode relevant contrast relationships at different spatial frequencies, allowing them to adapt color perception behavior to novel environments. The information could contribute to our understanding of how humans interpret color in similar situations and also could be used in creating advanced visual systems for robots, which could ultimately cause quite a buzz.

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