Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 170, Issue 1, pp 23–40

The spectral input systems of hymenopteran insects and their receptor-based colour vision


  • Dagmar Peitsch
    • Institut für Neurobiologie, Freie Universität Berlin
  • Andrea Fietz
    • Institut für Neurobiologie, Freie Universität Berlin
  • Horst Hertel
    • Bundesanstalt für Materialprüfung
  • John de Souza
    • Universidade de São Paulo, Instituto de Psicologica
  • Dora Fix Ventura
    • Universidade de São Paulo, Instituto de Psicologica
  • Randolf Menzel
    • Institut für Neurobiologie, Freie Universität Berlin

DOI: 10.1007/BF00190398

Cite this article as:
Peitsch, D., Fietz, A., Hertel, H. et al. J Comp Physiol A (1992) 170: 23. doi:10.1007/BF00190398


Spectral sensitivity functions S(λ) of single photoreceptor cells in 43 different hymenopteran species were measured intracellularly with the fast spectral scan method. The distribution of maximal sensitivity values (λmax) shows 3 major peaks at 340 nm, 430 nm and 535 nm and a small peak at 600 nm. Predictions about the colour vision systems of the different hymenopteran species are derived from the spectral sensitivities by application of a receptor model of colour vision and a model of two colour opponent channels. Most of the species have a trichromatic colour vision system. Although the S(λ) functions are quite similar, the predicted colour discriminability curves differ in their relative height of best discriminability in the UV-blue or bluegreen area of the spectrum, indicating that relatively small differences in the S(λ) functions may have considerable effects on colour discriminability. Four of the hymenopteran insects tested contain an additional R-receptor with maximal sensitivity around 600 nm. The R-receptor of the solitary bee Callonychium petuniae is based on a pigment (P596) with a long λmax, whereas in the sawfly Tenthredo campestris the G-receptor appears to act as filter to a pigment (P570), shifting its λmax value to a longer wavelength and narrowing its bandwidth. Evolutionary and life history constraints (e.g. phylogenetic relatedness, social or solitary life, general or specialized feeding behaviour) appear to have no effect on the S(λ) functions. The only effect is found in UV receptors, for which λmax values at longer wavelengths are found in bees flying predominantly within the forest.

Key words

PhotoreceptorsSpectral sensitivityColour visionHymenopterans

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1992