Understanding innate preferences of wild bee species: responses to wavelength-dependent selective excitation of blue and green photoreceptor types


Bees have a trichromatic vision with ultraviolet, blue, and green photoreceptors in their compound eyes. While the three photoreceptor types comprise the ‘color space’ at the perceptual level, preferential excitation of one or two of the photoreceptor types has been shown to play an important role in innate color preferences of bumble bees. Bees have been shown to exhibit strong attraction to fluorescence emission exclusively in the blue spectral region. It is not known if emission exclusively in the green spectral region produces similar attraction. Here, we examined responses of wild bees to traps designed to selectively stimulate either the blue or the green photoreceptor using sunlight-induced fluorescence in the 420–480 or 510–540 nm region, respectively. Additionally, we probed how subtle changes in the spectral characteristics of the traps affect the bee captures once a highly selective excitation of the blue photoreceptor is achieved. It was established that selective excitation of the green photoreceptor type was not attractive, in contrast to that of the blue photoreceptor type. However, once a highly selective excitation of the blue photoreceptor type (at ~ 400–480 nm) was achieved, the wild bees favored strong excitation at 430–480 nm over that in the 400–420 nm region.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10



Blue fluorescent


Clear non-fluorescent


Clear blue fluorescent


Green fluorescent


Green non-fluorescent


Purple trap I fluorescent


Purple trap I non-fluorescent


Blue trap J fluorescent


Blue trap J non-fluorescent


Blue trap K fluorescent


Blue trap K non-fluorescent




  1. Chittka L (1996) Optimal sets of color receptors and color opponent systems for coding of natural objects in insect vision. J Theor Biol 181:179–196

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Chittka L, Shmida A, Troje N, Menzel R (1994) Ultraviolet as a component of flower reflections, and the colour perception of Hymenoptera. Vision Res 34:1489–1508

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Dyer AG et al (2016) Innate colour preferences of the Australian native stingless bee Tetragonula Carbonaria Sm. J Comp Physiol A 202:603–613

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Goodale E, Kim E, Nabors A, Henrichon S, Nieh J (2014) The innate responses of bumble bees to flower patterns: separating the nectar guide from the nectary changes bee movements and search time. Naturwissenschaften 101:523–526

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Gumbert A (2000) Color choices by bumble bees (Bombus Terrestris): innate preferences and generalization after learning. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 48:36–43

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Hudon T, Plowright C (2011) Trapped: assessing attractiveness of potential food sources to bumblebees. J Insect Behav 24:144–158

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Lunau K (1990) Colour saturation triggers innate reactions to flower signals: flower dummy experiments with bumblebees. J Comp Physiol A 166:827–834

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Lunau K, Fieselmann G, Heuschen B, van de Loo A (2006) Visual targeting of components of floral colour patterns in flower-naïve bumblebees (Bombus Terrestris; Apidae). Naturwissenschaften 93:325–328

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Morawetz L, Spaethe J (2012) Visual attention in a complex search task differs between honeybees and bumblebees. J Exp Biol 215:2515–2523

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Morawetz L, Svoboda A, Spaethe J, Dyer AG (2013) Blue colour preference in honeybees distracts visual attention for learning closed shapes. J Comp Physiol A 199:817–827

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Papiorek S, Rohde K, Lunau K (2013) Bees’ subtle colour preferences: how bees respond to small changes in pigment concentration. Naturwissenschaften 100:633–643

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Peitsch D, Fietz A, Hertel H, de Souza J, Ventura D, Menzel R (1992) The spectral input systems of Hymenopteran insects and their receptor-based colour vision. J Comp Physiol A 170:23–40

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Rao S, Ostroverkhova O (2015) Visual outdoor response of multiple wild bee species: highly selective stimulation of a single photoreceptor type by sunlight-induced fluorescence. J Comp Physiol A 201:705–716

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Rohde K, Papiorek S, Lunau K (2013) Bumblebees (Bombus Terrestris) and honeybees (Apis Mellifera) prefer similar colours of higher spectral purity over trained colours. J Comp Physiol A 199:197–210

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Simonds V, Plowright C (2004) How do bumblebees first find flowers ? Unlearned approach responses and habituation. Anim Behav 67:379–386

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Spaethe J, Tautz J, Chittka L (2001) Visual constraints in foraging bumblebees: flower size and color affect search time and flight behavior. PNAS 98:3898–3903

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Stephen WP, Rao S (2005) Unscented color traps for non-Apis bees (Hymenoptera: Apiformes). J Kansas Entomol Soc 78:373–380

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Wertlen A, Niggebrügge C, Vorobyev M, Hempel De Ibarra N (2008) Detection of patches of coloured discs by bees. J Exp Biol 211:2101–2104

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank the farmers for permitting the study on their farms. Funding from Agricultural Research Foundation and Oregon State University is acknowledged.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Oksana Ostroverkhova.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standard

The ethical standards of the experiments comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.

Animal care

Animal care standards comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed. Reports of animal experiments must state that the “Principles of laboratory animal care” (NIH publication no. 85-23 revised 1985) were followed as well as specific national laws (e.g. the current version of the German Law on the Protection of Animals) where applicable.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (PDF 429 KB)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ostroverkhova, O., Galindo, G., Lande, C. et al. Understanding innate preferences of wild bee species: responses to wavelength-dependent selective excitation of blue and green photoreceptor types. J Comp Physiol A 204, 667–675 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00359-018-1269-x

Download citation


  • Wild bees
  • Bee vision
  • Innate behavior
  • Fluorescence
  • Selective receptor excitation