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Honey bees see better than has been known

Honey bees have much better eyesight than research previously has shown. With their eyes the bees effectively can discover predators, obstacles and other dangers. The new findings from Lund University can be applicable in developing artificial vision- and steering systems for robots and smart cars.
Photo: Elisa Rigosi
Photo: Elisa Rigosi

Researchers Elisa Rigosi and David O’Carroll at the Department of biology in Lund now show that honey bees see much better than anyone has been aware of.

The small brain of the bee has fascinated researchers for more than a hundred years. Research have shown that bees can see colours. The last decades researchers have also shown that bees can categorise objects through vision. They can learn concepts such as ”symmetry” and ”above and below”.

But, until now, researchers have not found out how well bees actually see in daylight.

The compound eye of a bee concists of facets. Behind each facet there are photoreceptors. Using electrophysiology Elisa Rigosi, David O’Carroll and their colleague Steven Wiederman at the the university in Adelaide have recorded the neural responses in single photoreceptors. Each time an object comes into the field of vision the light changes and there is a neural signal or response. It is this signal that the researchers have recorded.

”We show that a honey bee can see an object big as the width of your thumb with full resolution when the arm is stretched out in front of you”, Elisa Rigosi says.

”That is 30 percent better eyesight than researchers have been able to show until now”, she continues.

When full resolution is not a factor Elisa Rigosi and her colleagues also show that a bee can see an object which is only a third of the width of a thumb.

”That is five times smaller than researchers have shown before.”

The new results show that the a bee’s eyesight is important when it comes to avoiding dangers and obstacles. Their eyesight helps them to avoid collisions and they can discover predators at an earlier stage and at a longer distance. That means that the bees have a bigger chance to escape and survive.

The researchers in Lund think their findings will be useful when the industry develops new artificial vision- and steering systems.

The results are presented in an article in Scientific Reports at Nature.com.

 

Text: Jan Olsson

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