What does a Honey Bee see?

Like most other insects, the honey bee (Apis mellifera) has compound eyes - hundreds of single eyes (called ommatidia) arranged next to each other, each with its own lens and each looking in a different direction. This does not mean, however, that the bee sees lots of little pictures, as each ommatidium sees only one intensity, contributing a 'pixel' to the overall image perceived by the compound eye, just like a single photoreceptor in the retina of our own eye.

But there are differences between the bee's view of the world and ours. The bee has a lot fewer ommatidia than we have photoreceptors, and they are not evenly spaced. And of course the bee sees colours differently, relies more on image motion than on shapes, and much more.

B-EYE ignores most of these differences, simulating just the optics of the honey bee's compound eyes. It shows what a bee would see of a flat image, with the bee facing straight at the plane of the image. The original image (24x24cm in the bee's world) is on the left, and the representation of what the bee would see is on the right.


Move the mouse to move the bee left and right, up and down.
Press the left mouse button to move the bee closer and the right mouse button to move it away from the image.
Click on the thumbnails to select a different image.


This browser does not have a Java Plug-in.
Get the latest Java Plug-in here.




This is an updated interactive version of B-EYE. The original B-EYE has more info on the simulation, its scientific context, as well as a few more images.


About the images in B-EYE above:

This is an abstract pattern similar to some of the patterns I used to train my bees. The gray circle in the centre would have been an opening to a tunnel leading to the bees reward (or not, depending on what they were being trained on).
One of my main research questions was how bees distinguish the orientation of an edge or grating. This pattern illustrates how the maximum distance at which a grating can be resolved varies with its orientation.
I wonder if Charles Darwin was ever bothered by a bee. If so, now we know how the bee experienced that encounter.
Spiders are one of the predators bees have to look out for. This particular one is a Nephila maculata or Golden Web Spider. These are common in Singapore and build webs that are strong enough to slow you down if you walk into one.
We cannot talk about bee vision and not feature a flower, I guess. This one is particularly interesting because it hosts some of the bees' distant cousins.
These are two painted front boards of a 19th century bee hive in Slovenia. They must have been great landmarks for the bees to identify their colony among the dozens of neighbours in a bee house. The top board features 'Adam and Eve in Eden', and the one below depicts 'Job on a pile of manure'. Aparently, Job was the patron saint of Slovenian beekeepers, but the significance of the manure is unclear. Notice the bee-house on the left. There are more of these boards here.