As we walk through the bees gardens of Australia, we might not realize that the natural resource that is buzzing all around us is one our most precious natural resources. The pollination of about a third the food we eat is done by bees. Data on crop production shows that bees contribute over US$235 billion each year to the global economy.
Honeybees and Australian native honeybees play an important role in the creation of healthy communities, from backyard gardens to urban parks, by pollinating both native and non-native species.
Despite their importance for human and environmental health it is surprising how little we actually know about our insect friends.
It’s possible to learn how bees perceive and make decisions to help us better manage our resources.
How Vision Of Bees Differs From Vision Of Humans
ABC TV’s The Great Australian Bee Challenge is a new documentary that teaches everyday Australians about bees. We conducted an experiment to show how bees can use their incredible eyes to see complex shapes in flowers and human faces.
The lens in our eyes allows us to focus light onto the retina. This creates sharp images. In contrast, insects such as bees have a compound eye made up of many light-guiding tubes known as ommatidia.
A facet is the top of an ommatidia. There are approximately 5000 different ommatidia in each bee’s compound eye. Each funnels part of the scene toward specialised sensors that enable visual perception by their brains.
Because each ommatidia only contains limited information about a scene, due to the physics and light, the composite image is somewhat “grainy” in comparison to human vision. Bees face a problem when trying to locate flowers from afar because of their reduced visual sharpness.
In order to attract bees attention, pollinated flowers have often evolved to emit strong colour signals. Although we may find flowers beautiful, they aren’t design for our eyes. The ability of a bee to see mixtures of ultraviolet, green and blue light is what attracts the strongest signals.
How To Build A Bee Camera
It can be difficult to visualize how a honeybee sees, despite all the research. We created a bio-inspired bee eye camera to aid people, including ourselves, to see the world through the eyes of a bee.
It uses approximately 5000 straws to mimic the optical principles used by the bee compound eye. Each straw only views a part of the scene. However, the array of straws allows for all the scenes to be project onto one piece of tracing papers.
You can then capture the image with a digital camera. This project is easy to build by children of school age and can be assemble multiple times for insights into bees worldview.
We know our device mimics the visual abilities of bees because they can train to recognize visual targets.
Students can use student projects to explore the fascinating nexus of science, photography, and art. This will show how bees perceive different things. For example, carrots, which are an important part in our diet, and which require bees to produce seeds efficiently.
Protecting Bees Is Possible By Understanding Bee Vision
To live, bees need flowers and bees need to pollinate crops. Understanding bee vision will help us support our buzzy friends, and the vital pollination services that they provide, better.
It is evident that flowers bloom in groups, often using mixed cues such as colour and smell to help pollinators locate the most productive areas.
Many flowers in a single flower attract pollinators, much like boxing day sales at a shopping center. Even though shops are competing, they work better together – this may also be true for flowers.
This means that bees will not find one flower that is best for them. To support bees better, you should include as many native and non-native flowers in your environment as possible. It’s simple, If you plant it, they’ll come.
We are just beginning to understand how bee perceive and see our shared world, including art styles. The more we learn the better we can help and encourage our important insect partners.