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Which Colors Are Bees Attracted to the Most?

Did you know that bees are attracted to colors? 

The color of flowers plays an important role, as bees will be more attracted to some flowers if they have the correct color.

Bees are attracted more to colors on the blue/violet end of the light spectrum, while they’re less attracted to red or darker colors.

Read more about how to attract bees with colors in this article.

What Color Are Bees Attracted To?

Bees are very attracted to blue, violet, and ultraviolet, as well as yellow and orange. Through evolution, bees have evolved this tendency towards blue flowers. This has even caused some flowers to develop more blue petals.

This is due to the way they see light. Humans and bees both have three photoreceptors which we use to see colors. 

The human photoreceptors base their color combinations on red, blue, and green, while bees base theirs on ultraviolet light, blue, and green. 

Bees can also see, or detect, color faster – 5 times faster than humans.

bumblee bees on a flower

Why Bees Are Attracted to Blue and Violet Colors

Bees are attracted to blue and violet colors more than any other color of the spectrum, but what is it about this specific type of color that they like so much?

To understand color, you need to know about light. The color of an object is determined by the light it reflects (or doesn’t absorb). We see light with different wavelengths as different colors. [1]

The eye and brain work together to translate light into color.

Bees simply process light differently than us, hence they’re able to see other colors.

Bees have trichromatic vision, just like humans, meaning they have three photoreceptors within the eye and base color combinations on those three colors: ultraviolet, blue, and green. [2]

Since they don’t base their colors on red, like us, they can’t see red. Instead, they base colors on ultraviolet light, making them able to see ultraviolet light (which is an important aspect of pollination).

bumblebee flying

Bees are hence attracted to blue and violet because these are the colors they can see.

Why Bees Are Attracted to Ultraviolet Light

As discussed earlier, bees can see ultraviolet light, something humans aren’t able to (without additional aid).

One of the reasons why bees are attracted to ultraviolet light is that they connect color to food.

The reason for this stems from the way that flowers absorb ultraviolet radiation and use it to synthesize nutrients. Flowers create guidelines, or “bulls-eyes”, that reflect ultraviolet light, leading the bees straight to the nectar. 

Hence, a bee on the fly can quickly spot flowers with nectar very easily. This gives bees a big advantage when looking for nectar.

Honey bee on saffron flower. Crocus sativus blooming purple plan

Do Bees Have a Favorite Color?

Bees do in fact have a favorite color. Their favorite color corresponds to the flowers that produce the most nectar: violet.

Bees prefer violet, as violet flowers produce more nectar for the bees to feast on. Now, it’s important to note that this can change depending on the region where the bees live.

A study was done by PLUS ONE. Here they observed what flowers bees preferred, and the results did indeed vary depending on the region. The overall consensus was, however, that flowers that reflected short-wavelength blue light (UV-blue, blue, and violet), were the most popular to bees. [3]

Related: What attracts bees the most?

Two Bees on a purple flower

How Flowers Use UV-Light to Attract Bees

The fact that bees can see UV light isn’t just a cool fact. It’s a big advantage for bees when they are foraging (collecting nectar and pollen).

Plants and flowers rely on bees for pollination. It’s crucial for flowers to attract bees. They do this in many different ways, one of them being using UV light.

Flowers can develop UV patterns on their petals for bees to pick up on. This will attract bees, as bees have also learned that the UV pattern means the flower has nectar for them.

When a bee flies by a flower that reflects ultraviolet light, it’ll dive in to collect the nectar. They will then use the pattern to quickly locate the nectar, as the UV light works as guidelines.

Because these UV patterns are so noticeable to bees, flowers have evolved their ability to produce these UV markers much more noticeably.

What Flowers Are Best at Attracting Bees?

Certain flowers are better at attracting bees than others, partly due to their color, but also size, shape, and other factors.

Related: Best flowers for bees

Bee Balm

Bee balm is also known by its botanical name Monarda. Bee balm is an attractive perennial plant that blooms throughout the summer months.

Bee Balm is a member of the mint family that thrives in North America, primarily in the woodland areas, and is best known for the numerous cultivars available.

Bee Balm

Lilacs

Lilacs are a great flower to plant to attract pollinating bees. Different bees feel drawn to varying lilac colors, but all varieties will help bring in bees. 

There are some conflicting stories on the history of lilacs, but many sources say they originated in Iran. From there, they spread to Europe and then North America. [4]

A Bumblebee Pollinating a Chive Flower (Allium schoenoprasum)

Lavender

Lavender has been used for hundreds of years as a medicinal plant because it can help against stress and is often used for relaxation purposes. The vibrant violet color is great at attracting bees, and can even help calm them down.

Related: Does lavender attract bees?

bee in lavender

Sunflowers

Do you ever notice those giant, beautiful flowers that you see in a garden or a field? They’re best known for their height and the large yellow heads they produce. These large yellow petals will drive in bees.

bee on a sunflower

What Colors Can Bees See?

Bees can see the following colors:

  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Violet
  • Ultraviolet

As discussed earlier, the three photoreceptors in bees’ eyes base colors on a combination of ultraviolet light, blue, and green. This makes the colors visible to bees slightly different than the ones visible to humans.

Since they don’t have a photoreceptor for red, they can’t see red colors. They can see reddish colors (such as orange). Red will simply look like black to bees.

Related: Do bees see color?

Which Colors Do Bees Hate?

Bees don’t like dark colors. These colors resemble predators in the eyes of bees, which is why dark colors can aggravate them. Since bees can’t see red, they will simply see this as black.

Related: What colors do bees hate?

Which Colors Make Them Attack?

Bees don’t like dark colors because they appear as threats to them. Dark colors look black from a distance, and bees find darkness very scary. 

If you want to avoid being stung by bees (and wasps), avoid wearing dark clothes.

adult bumblebee

How Bees See and Why It Matters

Bees can see different colors than us, which is important when it comes to pollination. Beautiful flower colors are there to attract pollinators.

Aside from colors, bees also distinguish between colors incredibly fast. While we can have problems distinguishing between flowers in a group, bees don’t have this problem.

Related: How bees see the world

Then there’s speed. If you’re moving fast past a bed of flowers, you’ll most likely just see it as a group of flowers. Bees, who’re always on the move when foraging, can see individual flowers while traveling at high speeds.

That is why it’s also difficult to hit a bee – they’re really good at seeing moving objects.

Bees see color differently than humans do, but they also have a different way of communicating with each other. For example, a bee will waggle her body in a figure-eight pattern to indicate the location of a food source.

bees flying together around the flower

Bees Have 5 Eyes

The five eyes on a bee consist of two prominent eyes (compound eyes) and three ocelli (simple eyes). The ocelli look like tiny black dots on the top of their heads.

Unlike the large compound eyes that allow bees to see, the ocelli are used to detect light. Bees can use the ocelli to orient themselves towards the sun, as well as navigate better.

Bees can, with the help of the sun, easily find their way back home after foraging. They can almost fly in a straight line, even after long journeys.

The two prominent eyes on a bee are called compound eyes. Each eye is made up of thousands of smaller units called ommatidia. Bees have different amounts of these based on their roles (workers have between 4,500 – 5,500). [5]

Each ommatidium has its lens for focusing light and creating an image. With these two abilities, bees can focus on small objects or objects that are farther away.

Related: How many eyes do bees have?

bee mandible close up 2

The Color Spectrum

Bees see colors very differently compared to humans. Humans are equipped with trichromatic vision, which bees are as well.

The difference lies in the colors we base our color combination on.

Humans use red, green, and blue to produce color combinations, giving on the ability to see all colors from red to violet.

Bees, on the other hand, base their colors on the green, blue, and ultraviolet. This means they can’t see red colors but are instead capable of seeing ultraviolet light, which humans can’t.

How Bees See the World

Bees see the world very differently than us. We’ve discussed the way color is processed, and how bees can see ultraviolet light – which gives us some insight into how they see the world.

There are tonnes of ultraviolet colors in the world, all of which are invisible to humans. We need special tools to see these. Bees, and other animals, have access to this all of the time.

The world that we see is not the one animals see.

Bees can also distinguish between light and dark very easily. This lets them quickly see edges and contrasts, which is very handy when flying.

bee flying towards flower

Conclusion

Bees are mainly attracted to short-wavelength blue, violet, and ultraviolet colors. Bees’ eyes work differently than ours, including the way they process colors.

Bees are attracted to colors based on the native flowers they’re exposed to, relative to the amount of nectar they produce. If bees live around violet flowers that produce a lot of nectar, they’ll be attracted more by violet colors.

Our eyes transform light into colors, depending on the wavelength of the light that’s reflected from an object. Bees can’t see red (large wavelengths), instead they can see ultraviolet light (short wavelengths).

FAQs

Why Do Bees Like Purple Flowers?

Bees are attracted to purple flowers because they generally produce more nectar. Bees are efficient, which is why they want to spend their time harvesting nectar from the plants which contain the most.

Why Do Bees Like Blue Flowers?

Bees are very attracted to blue, because of the way they see color. Their color spectrum ranges from orange to ultraviolet, blue being a big part of the colors they can see. Blue flowers also produce a lot of nectar, which bees have learned.

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.