Like A Bee Sees
By now you’ve probably all watched the latest It’s Okay To Be Smart video about the amaaaaazing ways that bees are able to sense flowers. (actually I know a few of you haven’t so go do that, mmkay? Thanks!)
Beyond the electric field sensing part (which is cool in its own right), it’s the fact that bees see into the “invisible” that just blows my mind. Bees (and butterflies too, actually) have photoreceptors that respond to wavelengths down in the UV range (see chart above). They use that vision to zoom right in on the important part of the flower: the sweet, sugary nectar pot.
Spoiler alert: As much as we love flowers, they don’t really give a crap about us. But they do love bees. In return for giving the bees the sugary yum-yums, flowers get pollinated. And in the name of the evolutionary game, that’s the most important thing. To help get the gene-passing-on done, flowers have evolved certain pigments near the center of the flower that absorb UV light. That paints a big, fat bulls-eye for the bee to land on, right where the flower needs them (next to all the flower-sex bits). To us, the whole flower may look yellow or orange. To a bee. BIG “land here” spot in the middle.
THAT IS AMAZING!!! Nature, you are just too cool.
Thanks to camera technology, we can take UV filtered photos of flowers and see those patterns pop out. It’s a pretty advanced technique, but some of my favorites are above. Check out those photographers’ galleries at the links below: