Do Bees Have Compound Eyes?

Last Updated on June 26, 2021

Wondering if bees have compound eyes? Bees have two compound eyes and 3 simple eyes or ocelli. This means bees have 5 eyes. In a worker bee, each compound eye has 6900 facets – each facet is a small eye, meaning that bees really have 13803 eyes. For simplicity, we refer in this article to worker bees of the Apis genus. Other bee species have different numbers of facets in their compound eyes, but the principle is the same.

What Is a Bee Compound Eye?

A bee compound eye is a collection of small eyes forming a dome shape. Each facet of the bee compound eye functions as a stand-alone unit called an ommatidium. Each ommatidium in the bee compound eye has receptor cells that can detect yellow/green, blue, and UV light. The bee compound eye also allows the bee to detect if the light is polarized. The detection of polarized light allows the bees to use the sun for navigation. A bee can fly up to six km (3.7mi) from its hive and find its way back accurately using these special eyes. To put this in perspective this would the same as an average human athlete being able to travel 720km (450mi) through the air and being able to find their way home using just maths and their eyes, no maps, no paper. Very few, if any human can do that.

How Does a Bee Compound Eye Work?

The bee’s compound eyes, working in conjunction with the simple eyes, allow the bee to fly great distances and return home accurately using the compound eyes and complex trigonometric navigation. 

The bee’s compound eyes allow it to detect flowers by color, and in many cases detect nectar in the flowers. Flowers are beautiful billboard plants put up asking bees to pollinate them. Bee compound eyes allow them to see these flower billboards and provide ecosystem services which pollinate wild and crop flowers producing the abundance of food and beauty our Earth provides for us. 

compound eyes

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How do Bee Compound Eyes Help in Decision-Making?

A bee cannot afford to carry a big brain around, as it has to fly efficiently. A small compact brain, twinned with a sophisticated set of compound eyes allows the bee to make decisions efficiently. You will notice the way a bee approaches a flower – it will hover, and look at the flower, and this allows the compound eyes and the brain to make decisions. Once the bee has learned the look and smell of a specific flower type, they become faster and faster at making decisions to approach the flower.

In short, a major contributing factor to making our Earth beautiful is that bees have compound eyes, and the result is pretty flowers exist.

Next time you eat a strawberry, or a sweet cherry, remember, if bees did not have compound eyes, they would not be able to find the flowers and pollinate them, and we would not enjoy these fruit as they would not exist. We can be grateful that bees have compound eyes, as this allows them to work with us to improve our environment for bees and for us. It also allows bees to calculate how far they have flowed from their hives, so they can go to the toilet. Follow this link to learn about how bees poop, and where the yellow dots on your windshield come from.

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