With Spring finally here, bees are starting to bumble around foraging for nectar, spreading pollen and joy. The next time you spot a bee, you should know that there’s a lot more to bee foraging than just pretty colours and fragrant flowers.
Many animals can see colours beyond the spectrum of light that humans can see, and bees are no exception. Though limited in the lower range of the spectrum (towards red), bee vision extends beyond ours in the higher ranges; they can see ultraviolet (UV) light. The ability to see these UV wavelengths reveals patterns on flowers invisible to the human eye. More contrast makes flowers easier to spot, and sometimes flowers even have ‘runway’ markings to lead bees directly to the goods.
It sounds like science fiction, but in addition to super-vision, bees can interpret electrical fields. As bees fly through the air, they acquire a slightly positive charge. Plants usually have a slightly negative charge, but these change temporarily during and after a bee’s visit. Bumblebees can detect this change and avoid them, knowing that these flowers are low on supplies.
Honeybees communicate through dance, specifically the ‘Waggle Dance’. Summertime for honeybees often means travelling further to harvest food for growing colonies. This means that bees returning to the hive need a way of effectively communicating the best locations to the rest of the colony, so that they can help harvest efficiently. Roughly, the dance involves moving in a figure of eight and “waggling” the abdomen. The information lies in the angle of the dance in relation to the sun, and the dance’s duration; one second of waggle is roughly equal to 750 metres. By interpreting these dances, we can understand more about where bees are foraging, and so where to focus our efforts to help them.
Don’t forget to participate in the bee count this year between the 19th May – 30th June, and marvel at the powers of the Humble Bee. Visit foe.co.uk/bees for more on bees and how you can get involved in the Bee Cause.
Photograph: Split photograph of Bidens ferufoliatin visual light (left) and simulated bee vision (right), both by Dr Schmitt, Weinheim, Germany. Site: uvir.eu
By Branwen Messamah