, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 244-268
Date: 17 Feb 2012

New vistas on honey bee vision

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The honey bee is a traditional animal model for the study of visual perception, learning, and memory. Extensive behavioral studies have shown that honey bees perceive, learn, and memorize colors, shapes, and patterns when these visual cues are paired with sucrose reward. Bee color vision is trichromatic, based on three photoreceptor types (S, M, L), which peak in the UV, blue, and green region of the spectrum. Perceptual color spaces have been proposed to account for bee color vision, and the anatomy of the visual neuropils in the bee brain was described to a large extent. In the last decade, conceptual and technical advances improved significantly our comprehension of visual processing in bees. At the behavioral level, unexpected cognitive visual capacities were discovered such as categorical and conceptual categorization. At the neurobiological level, molecular analyses of the compound eye revealed an intricate heterogeneity in the distribution of photoreceptors in the retina. Spatial segregation and integration of visual information in the bee brain has been analyzed at functional levels so far unexploited. These recent discoveries associated with the perspective of accessing the bee brain of harnessed bees while they perceive and learn visual cues open new avenues toward a comprehension of the neural substrates of visual perception and learning in bees. Understanding how the miniature brain of bees achieves sophisticated visual performances is a fundamental goal for the comparative study of vision and cognition.