What is the bee's favourite colour?

 
Flower Face no 14 Arttally
 

Flowers are designed to get attention. That's probably why we love them. Those bright colours certainly can lift our spirits but they serve a very specific purpose. The point of the flower is to attract pollinators.

Insects, birds and bats are all pollinators. Insect pollinators include ants, bees, beetles, butterflies and moths. Honeybees do more pollinating than any of the other insects.  Purple is the bee's favourite colour. (It's mine too. Sensible bees.) Bees are attracted to purple flowers more than any other colour of flower.

The honey bee aims for purple flowers for an excellent reason. Purple flowers contain more nectar than other flowers. So it makes sense that if the bee is genetically primed to seek out purple flowers they have the best chance of survival. It is a symbiotic relationship. Likewise, the flower that has the showiest purple flowers increases its chance of pollination and also improves its chance of survival.

Butterflies prefer bright pink, red, orange and yellow flowers, while hummingbirds are attracted to red, fuschia, pink or purple blooms.

Flowers that bloom at night tend to have less vivid colours.  These flowers tend to be pollinated by bats and moths, and there is little sense in their having beautiful colours that won't be seen in the dark. Instead, these flowers are heavily fragrant, using scent to attract their pollinators, rather than colour.

Interestingly, the honey bee doesn't actually see colours in the same way that we humans do.  Bees see colours in ultraviolet. Primary colours to the human eye are red, green and blue. But to bees, primary colours are blue, green and ultraviolet.  While the studies don't all agree on what the exact colour spectrum is through the eyes of a bee, they all agree that bees cannot see red. To a bee, red is seen as black.

We have been learning about the bee's view of the world from about the early 1900's and the work of Karl von Frisch. If you are looking for more recent investigations of the sensory perception of the bee you might want to start with Lars Chittka from Queen Mary University of London.

But on a more practical note... if you are wondering what colour to paint your hive..... go here!

Explore more of the Flower Faces Series or see the other monthly series in the collection.