Journal of comparative physiology

, Volume 141, Issue 3, pp 379–388 | Cite as

Luminance dependence of pigment color discrimination in bees

  • R. Rose
  • R. Menzel


  1. 1.

    A system is described in which a behavioral test is used to match color shades to an arbitrarily chosen level to the compound of brightness and saturation. This system was used with honeybees (Apis mellifera carnica) to develop a series of color marks which were equal to the compound of brightness and color saturation to bees.

  2. 2.

    Freely flying honeybees were trained to a blue color mark on a vertical screen. Discrimination of this blue color from violet, green, blue-green and yellow was tested at various natural luminances. In the majority of the experiments the background screen was painted achromatic grey of the same luminosity as the color marks. Two training procedures were used: one utilized a feeding station, the other the hive entrance.

  3. 3.

    Bees discriminate colors best at luminances between 101 and 102 cd/m2. Color discrimination is less acute at both higher and lower luminance levels; these deficits at high and low luminances have been termed the bright light and dim light effects, respectively. Color discrimination disappears below 10−1 cd/m2 (Fig. 6). The dependence of color discrimination on available light is the same in both the violet and blue-green regions.

  4. 4.

    It is concluded that bees have achromatic vision at low light levels (<10−1 cd/m2), and that they can use this achromatic vision during extreme low light situations — even during flight orientation. The bright light effect is discussed with respect to results from single unit electrophysiological recording experiments and appears to result from the specific behavior of light adaptation in the retinula cell — monopolar cell system. The narrow luminance band of optimum color discrimination suggests that color discrimination may be better than previously determined using selfruminant spectral lights (von Heiversen 1972a).



Color Discrimination Light Effect Color Mark Hive Entrance Retinula Cell 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Autrum H, Zwehl V von (1964) Spektrale Empfindlichkeit einzelner Sehzellen des Bienenauges. Z Vergl Physiol 48:357–384Google Scholar
  2. Barlow HB (1952) The size of ommatidia in apposition eyes. J Exp Biol 79:667–674Google Scholar
  3. Daumer K (1956) Reizmetrische Untersuchungen des Farbensehens der Bienen. Z Vergl Physiol 38:413–478Google Scholar
  4. Erber J, Menzel R (1977) Visual interneurons in the median protocerebrum of the bee. J Comp Physiol 121:65–77Google Scholar
  5. Hamdorf K (1979) The physiology of invertebrate visual pigments. In: Autrum H (ed) Handbook of sensory physiology, vol VII/ 6A. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 145–224Google Scholar
  6. Helversen O von (1972a) Zur spektralen Unterschiedempfindlichkeit der Honigbiene. J Comp Physiol 80:439–472Google Scholar
  7. Helversen O von (1972b) The relationship between difference Stimuli and choice frequency in training experiments with the honeybee. In: Wehner R (ed) Information processing in the visual systems of arthropods. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 323–334Google Scholar
  8. Hertel H (1980) Chromatic properties of identified interneurons in the optic lobes of the bee. J Comp Physiol 137:215–231Google Scholar
  9. Kien J, Menzel R (1977a) Chromatic properties of interneurons in the bee optic lobes. I. Broad band neurons. J Comp Physiol 113:17–34Google Scholar
  10. Kien J, Menzel R (1977b) Chromatic properties of interneurons in the bee optic lobes. II. Narrow Band and Colour Opponent Neurons. J Comp Physiol 113:35–53Google Scholar
  11. Kirschfeld K (1974) The absolute sensitivity of lens and compound eyes. Z Naturforsch 29c:592–596Google Scholar
  12. Laughlin SB, Hardie RC (1978) Common strategies for light adaptation in the peripheral visual systems of fly and dragonfly. J Comp Physiol 128:319–340Google Scholar
  13. Menzel R (1974) Spectral sensitivity of monopolar cells in the bee lamina. J Comp Physiol 93:337–346Google Scholar
  14. Menzel R (1975) Electrophysiological evidence for different color receptor in one ommatidium of the bee eye. Z Naturforsch 30c:692–694Google Scholar
  15. Menzel R (1977) Color vision in insects. Verh Dtsch Zool Ges 70 Jahresv 26–40Google Scholar
  16. Menzel R (1981) Achromatic vision in the honeybee at low light intensities. J Comp Physiol 141:389–393Google Scholar
  17. Menzel R, Blakers M (1976) Color receptors in the bee eye: morphology and spectral sensitivity. J Comp Physiol 108:11–33Google Scholar
  18. Menzel R, Snyder AW (1978) Photorezeptor Optik: Struktur und Funktion von Photorezeptoren. In: Hoppe W, Lohmann W, Markl H, Ziegler H (Hrsg) Biophysik, ein Lehrbuch. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, S 468–481Google Scholar
  19. Ribi WA (1975) The first optic ganglion of the bee. I. Correlation between visual cell types and their terminals in the lamina and medulla. Cell Tissue Res 165:103–112Google Scholar
  20. Schlecht P (1979) Colour discrimination in dim light: an analysis of the photoreceptor arrangement in the mothDeilephila. J. Comp Physiol 129:257–267Google Scholar
  21. Snyder AW (1977) Acuity of compound eyes: physical limitations and design. J Comp Physiol 116:161–182Google Scholar
  22. Snyder AW, Stavenga DG, Laughlin SB (1977) Spatial information capacity of compound eyes. J Comp Physiol 116:183–207Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Rose
    • 1
    • 2
  • R. Menzel
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Marine Biological LaboratoryWoods HoleUSA
  2. 2.Institut für Tierphysiologie, Arbeitsgruppe NeurobiologieFreie Universität BerlinBerlin 41

Personalised recommendations