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How Many Eyes Does a Bee Have?

Bees have five eyes in total: two compound eyes and three ocelli (simple eyes). Bees primarily use their compound eyes, while the ocelli are used for navigation and other vision-related things.

This combination of different types of eyes is seen in other insects as well, such as ants.

But how do bee eyes work?

That’s what we’ll discuss in this article.

Two Compound Eyes

Bees, like many other insects, have compound eyes. [1]

The two compound eyes are located on either side of the bee’s head. These vast eyes are made up of hundreds or thousands of separate lenses (called ommatidia), each like a small eye. [2]

Each lens has its own set of light-sensing cells that beam information into the bee’s brain.

Depending on bees’ role, they have a different amount of ommatidia. Workers tend to have 5,000-5,500, while drones can have upwards of 10,000. [3]

The thousands of lenses cover a small area each. This way, bees can process images from different parts of their surrounding area and create a picture of how their environment looks and how it’s changing.

bee mandible close up

What Are the Compound Eyes Used For?

The compound eyes are simply used for seeing. With these, they can see color, contrasts, and are highly evolved for flying.

When humans travel at high speeds, everything becomes a blur – but not for bees. Bees can see just as well on the fly as if they’re stationary.

This helps them quickly spot flowers for nectar, as well as avoid predators or other moving objects.

bee grooming itself

Three Ocelli (Simple Eyes)

Bees have three ocelli that are arranged in a triangle on top of their head (between the compound eyes).

The Ocelli are eyes found on bees, consisting of a single lens attached to six superimposed crystalline cones that face in different directions. They can detect light or movement.

They help detect predators and locate flowers due to their ability to determine polarized light.

bee mandible close up 2

What Are the Ocelli Used For?

The ocelli are used for navigation and orientation. The three simple eyes help bees orient themselves relative to the sun by detecting focused light. [4]

While this might sound useless, it’s a highly effective method of navigating.

When bees fly out to forage, they need a way to find their way back. One of the methods used is referencing the position of the sun.

With the ocelli and other tools, bees can fly back to their nest in an almost perfectly straight line, even after making several twists and turns.

They’re also very useful for detecting changes in light. If a predator is approaching from above, bees can sense the change in light, making sure to out-maneuver the threat.

The ocelli are what make it hard to swat bees. Bees are incredibly good at avoiding moving objects.

bee flying towards flower

Why Do Bees Have 5 Eyes?

Bees have 5 eyes, as they have a need that only two eyes can’t support. While their compound eyes are highly developed, bees also need their ocelli. Without these, bees would have trouble navigating.

Related: Bee Anatomy

Facts About Bees Vision

Bees see things differently than we do, but they also see different things than us. 

Below are a few facts about bees that will help you understand how they view the world around them.

  1. Bees have compound eyes covered in thousands of lenses (5,000-10,000). Each lens has its retina and captures light from one direction. It allows bees to see in almost all directions at once and helps them with their depth perception.
  2. Bees don’t see colors as we do. Their photoreceptors detect blue, green, and ultraviolet light, instead of red, blue, and green like humans. Hence, they can’t see red, but they can see ultraviolet light.
  3. Bees’ eyes can detect polarized light, which gives them a sense of direction as to which way is up and down. This ability lets them navigate over long distances as well as helps them find their way back home.
  4. Bees have a higher “flicker” threshold, meaning, they can see things very clearly, even if they travel at high speeds. Imagine driving by a flower field in a car, but you can see every individual flower perfectly separated.

Related: Bee sight & how they see the world

Where Are a Bees Eyes Located?

Bees’ eyes are located in the top part of their head. The two compound eyes are pushed out to the sides of the head, while the three ocelli sit in the middle, forming a little triangle.

This positioning isn’t random. The way their eyes point outwards is seen in many animals, most of which are herbivores.

Since they don’t eat other animals, they have no need for hunting – but they are being hunted at times. This wide field of view helps them avoid predators.

In predators, you’ll more often see the eyes pointed forward (like wolves or lions). This is because they don’t need to be afraid of being attacked, but rather need to be able to focus on their prey.

bee curving mandibles on flight

What Colors Do Bees See?

Most people assume that bees see the same colors as we do, but this is not true. 

Bees can see colors from light with wavelengths 300 to 650 nm. In other words, they can see colors between orange and ultraviolet light. 

The difference between how bees and humans see colors is due to the photoreceptors. Bees base color combinations on ultraviolet, blue, and green, as opposed to red, blue, and green like humans.

Related: Do bees see color?

Can Bees See at Night?

No, bees typically can’t see very well at night. Regular honeybees don’t have the need to see at night, as they’re diurnal: they work all day, and sleep all night.

Some species of bees have developed better night vision than regular bees, due to nocturnal behavior. These species will fly out to forage at night instead of during the day.

Related: Can bees see in the dark?

bee at night flying alone

Can Bees See UV Light?

Yes, bees can see UV light. Their photoreceptors detect UV light, which is very beneficial to bees in many ways. For one, they use UV light to find nectar.

Flowers that attract pollinators will have UV patterns on their petals, serving as guidelines. This helps them attract more bees, which will result in better pollination.

These flowers will typically produce more nectar, which is why the bees are attracted to them.

Are Bees Attracted to Light?

Bees are known to be attracted to light. This is due to a natural positive phototactic response, meaning, bees will fly towards the light when exposed to it. This is common for many animals, which is why bug zappers work so well.

Related: Are bees attracted to light?

bee flying alone at night in a flower

Conclusion

Bees have 5 eyes, two of which are compound eyes, while three are simple eyes called ocelli. The compound eyes are used for seeing, detecting color, and regular use, while the ocelli are primarily there to detect focused light.

This ability to detect focused light helps them navigate and orient themselves relative to the sun.

While bees aren’t color blind, they see different colors than us – they can see ultraviolet light, which is invisible to humans, but can’t see red.

FAQs

Do All Bees Have 5 Eyes?

Yes, all types of bees have 5 eyes. This is a global trait shared by all bees. Both the compound eyes and ocelli are needed in order for bees to forage, as well as to find their way back home.

How Many Types of Eyes Do Bees Have?

Bees have two different types of eyes, compound eyes (which are big), and ocelli (which are small). The compound eyes then consist of thousands of little lenses, which together form a big picture.

Do Wasps Also Have 5 Eyes?

Yes, wasps also have five eyes. Just like bees, they have two compound eyes and three ocelli. This is not only seen in bees and wasps but also flies and even some ants. 

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.