Cookies Policy

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

I accept this policy

Find out more here


No metrics data to plot.
The attempt to load metrics for this article has failed.
The attempt to plot a graph for these metrics has failed.
The full text of this article is not currently available.

Brill’s MyBook program is exclusively available on BrillOnline Books and Journals. Students and scholars affiliated with an institution that has purchased a Brill E-Book on the BrillOnline platform automatically have access to the MyBook option for the title(s) acquired by the Library. Brill MyBook is a print-on-demand paperback copy which is sold at a favorably uniform low price.

Access this article

+ Tax (if applicable)
Add to Favorites
You must be logged in to use this functionality

image of Israel Journal of Plant Sciences

A pervasive idea among pollination biologists is that bees cannot see red flowers. This idea has led many workers to assume that red coloration is an adaptation by which flowers exclude bees as visitors. However, recent empirical and theoretical evidence strongly supports the alternative view, that red flowers are visible to bees. Our purpose is to marshal this evidence from physiology, behavior, and ecology. First, we define the spectral boundary between orange and red, and show that the visual spectrum of all bee species studied to date extends enough into long wavelengths to provide sensitivity to red light. Such sensitivity differs from the ability to discriminate different monochromatic lights, and we argue that bees will be unable to discriminate such lights above about 550 nm. Second, we point out that flowers do not reflect monochromatic lights. Instead many of them, particularly those that appear red, orange, yellow, and white to humans, have reflectance patterns that are essentially step functions. We predict that bees should be able to discriminate such reflectance patterns over a range of 550–650 nm, since reflectance functions with steps at such wavelengths will occupy different loci in bee color space and thus be distinguishable. In this sense, bees should distinguish between green-, yellow-, orange-, and red-reflecting objects, even if these do not reflect in shorter wavelengths (including UV). A behavioral experiment shows that bumblebees can indeed perform this task. Third, we present information on the spectral reflectance of some typical “red” flowers, combined with field observations of bee visitation to such flowers. We end with a preliminary reassessment of the adaptive significance of red flower coloration, using North American “hummingbird” flowers as an example; we also stress some of the pitfalls facing evolutionary biologists who continue to assume that bees are blind to red objects.

Affiliations: 1: Institut für Neurobiologie, Freie Universität Berlin ; 2: Department of Ecology and Evolution, State University of New York ; 3: Biozentrum der Universität ; 4: Department of Biology, University of California


Full text loading...


Data & Media loading...

1. Arikawa K., Inokuma K., Eguchi E."Pantachromatic visual system in a butterfly."Naturwissenschaften1987Vol 74297298
2. Armbruster W.S."Estimating and testing the shapes of adaptive surfaces: the morphology and pollination of Dalechampia blossoms."Am. Nat.1990Vol 1351431
3. Backhaus W."Color opponent coding in the visual system of the honeybee."Vision Res.1991Vol 3113811397
4. Bne F."Experiments on the color preference of black-chinned hummingbirds."Condor1941Vol 43237323
5. Bradshaw H.D.Jr., Wilbert S.M., Otto K.G., Schemske D.W."Genetic mapping of floral traits associated with reproductive isolation in monkeyflowers (Mimulus)."Nature1995Vol 376762765
6. Campbell D.R., Waser N.M., Price M.V."Mechanisms of hummingbird-mediated selection for flower width in Ipomopsis aggregata"Ecology1996Vol 7714631472
7. Chen D.M., Goldsmith T.H."Four spectral classes of cone in the retinas of birds."J. Comp. Physiol.1986Vol 159473479
8. Chittka L."The color hexagon: a chromaticity diagram based on photoreceptor excitations as a generalized representation of colour opponency."J. Comp. Physiol. A1992Vol 170533543
9. Chittka L."Does bee color vision predate the evolution of flower color?"Naturwissenschaften1996Vol 83136138
10. Chittka L., Menzel R."The evolutionary adaptation of flower colors and the insect pollinators' color vision systems."J. Comp. Physiol. A1992Vol 171171181
11. Chittka L., Beier W., Hertel H., Steinmann E., Menzel R."Opponent coding is a universal strategy to evaluate the photoreceptor inputs in Hymenopera."J. Comp. Physiol. A1992Vol 170545563
12. Chittka L., Shmida A., Troje N., Menzel R."Ultraviolet as a component of flower reflections, and the colour perception of hymenoptera."Vision Res.1994Vol 3414891508
13. Collias N.E., Collias E.C."Anna's hummingbird trained to select different colors in feeding."Condor1968Vol 70273274
14. Dafni A., Bernhardt P., Shmida A., Irvri Y., Greenbaum S., O'Toole C., Losito L."Red bowl-shaped flowers: convergence for beetle pollination in the Mediterranean region."Isr. J. Bot.1990Vol 398192
15. Daumer K."Reizmetrische Untersuchung des Farbensehens der Bienen."Z. Vgl. Physiol.1956Vol 38413478
16. Daumer K."Blumenfarben, wie sie die Bienen sehen."Z. Vgl. Physiol.1958Vol 4149110
17. Elam D.R., Linhart Y.B."Pollination and seed production in Ipomopsis aggregata: differences among and within flower color morphs."Amer. J. Bot.1978Vol 7512621274
18. Exner F., Exner S."Die physikalischen Grundlagen der Bltenfrbungen."1910Vol I 119191245Sitzungsber. Kais. Akad. Wiss. Wien, Math.-nat. Kl
19. von Frisch K."Demonstration von Versuchen zum Nachweis des Farbensehens bei angeblich total farbenblinden Tieren."Verhandl. Deutsch. Zool. Ges.1914Vol 245058
20. von Frisch K."Der Farbensinn und Formensinn der Bienen."Zool. Jahresber. (Physiol.)1914/1915Vol 351188
21. von Frisch K."The dance language and orientation of bees."Harvard University PressCambridge, MA.1967
22. Giurfa M., Backhaus W., Menzel R."Colour and angular orientation in the discrimination of bilateral symmetric patterns in the honeybee."Naturwissenschaften1995Vol 82198201
23. Giurfa M., Vorobyev M., Kevan P., Menzel R."Detection of coloured stimuli by honeybees: minimum visual angles and receptor specific contrasts."J. Comp. Physiol. A1996Vol 178699709
24. Goldsmith T.H., Goldsmith K.M."Discrimination of colors by the black-chinned hummingbird, Archilochus alexandri"J. Comp. Physiol. A1979Vol 130209220
25. Grant K.A., Grant V."Hummingbirds and their flowers."Columbia University PressNew York1968
26. Griffin D.R., Hubbard R., Wald G."The sensitivity of the human eye to infra-red radiation."J. Opt. Soc. Am.1947Vol 37546554
27. Hasselmann E.-M."ber die relative Empfindlichkeit von Kfer- und Schmetterlingsaugen bei verschiedenen Helligkeiten."Zool. J. Physiol.1962Vol 69537576
28. Harborne J.B.,"Biochemistry of plant pollination"Introduction to ecological biochemistry. Harborne J.B.Academic PressLondon19823265
29. Hardie R.C."The photoreceptor array of the dipteran retina."Trends Neurosci.1986Vol 9419423
30. von Helversen O."Zur spektralen Unterschiedsempfindlichkeit der Honigbiene."J. Comp. Physiol.1972Vol 80439472
31. Hinton H.E."Possible significance of the red patches of the female crab spider, Misumena vatia"J. Zool.1976Vol 1803537
32. Jacobs G.H."The distribution and nature of color vision among the mammals."Biol. Rev.1993Vol 68413471
33. Kelly D., Ladley J.J., Robertson A.W., Edwards J., Smith D.C."The birds and the flowers."Nature1996Vol 384615
34. Kevan P.O.,"Floral colors through the insect eye: what they are and what they mean"Handbook of experimental pollination biology. Jones C.E., Little R.J.Van Nostrand ReinholdNew York1983330
35. Kretz R."A behavioural analysis of colour vision in the ant Cataglyphis bicolor (Formicidae, Hymenoptera)."J. Comp. Physiol.1979Vol 131217233
36. Kugler H."Hummeln als Bltenbesucher."Ergebn. Biol.1943Vol 19143323
37. Khn A."Versuche ber das Unterscheidungsvermgen der Bienen und Fische fr Spektrallichter."Nachr. d. Ges. Wiss. Gttingen1924Vol 16671
38. Laughlin S.B."The role of sensory adaptation in the retina."J. Exp. Biol.1989Vol 1463962
39. LeGrand Y."Light, colour and vision."Chapman and HallLondon1968
40. Lunau K., Wacht S., Chittka L."Colour choices of naive bumblebees and their implications for colour perception."J. Comp. Physiol. A1996Vol 178477489
41. Lythgoe J.N."The ecology of vision."Clarendon PressOxford1979
42. Macior L.W."Floral resource sharing by bumblebees and hummingbirds in Pedicularis (Scrophulariaceae) pollination."Bull. Torrey Bot. Club1986Vol 113101109
43. McNaughton I.H., Harper J.L."The comparative biology of closely related species living in the same area. I. External breeding barriers between Papaver species."New Phytol.1960Vol 591526
44. Mazokhin-Porshniakov G.A."Insect vision."Plenum PressNew York1969
45. Melndez-Ackerman E., Campbell D.R., Waser N.M."Hummingbird behavior and mechanisms of selection on flower color in Ipomopsis aggregata"Ecology1997in press
46. Menzel R., Backhaus W.,"Colour vision in insects"Vision and visual dysfunction. The perception of colour. Gouras P.Macmillan PressLondon1991262288
47. Miller R.S., Miller R.E."Feeding activity and color preference of ruby-throated hummingbirds."Condor1971Vol 73309313
48. Mitchell R.J."Is Penstemon centranthifolius truly hummingbird pollinated?"Crossosoma1989Vol 1519
49. Molitor A."Versuche betreffend die Rotblindheit solitrer Bienen."Verh. Zool.-bot. Ges. Wien1937Vol 86125139
50. Molitor A."Zum Farbensinn der Faltenwespen."Zool. Anz.1939Vol 126259264
51. Olesen J.M., Knudsen J.T."Scent profiles of flower colour morphs of Corydalis cava (Fumariaceae) in relation to foraging behaviour of bumblebee queens (Bombus terrestris)."Biochem. Syst. Ecol.1994Vol 22231237
52. Paul R., Steiner A., Gemperlein R."Spectral sensitivities of Calliphora erythrocephala and other insect species studied with Fourier interferometric stimulation (FIS)."J. Comp. Physiol. A1986Vol 158669680
53. Peitsch D., Fietz A., Hertel H., de Souza J., Ventura D.F., Menzel R."The spectral input systems of hymenopteran insects and their receptor-based colour vision."J. Comp. Physiol. A1992Vol 1702340
54. Plateau F."Nouvelles recherches sur les rapports entre les insectes et les fleurs."Mm. Soc. Zool. France1899Vol 12336370
55. Pleasants J.M., Waser N.M."Bumblebee foraging at a hummingbird flower: reward economics and floral choice."Am. Midl. Nat.1985Vol 114283291
56. Proctor M., Yeo P., Lack A."The natural history of pollination."Timber PressPortland, OR1996
57. Raven P.H."Why are bird-visited flowers predominantly red?"Evolution1972Vol 26674
58. Rosen D."Systematische und kologische Aspekte der Ultraviolett-Reflexion von Blten am Beispiel der Dilleniidae, Lamiidae und Asteridae. Ph.D. thesis, Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universitt, Bonn, Germany"1991
59. Smith V.C., Pokorny J."Spectral sensitivities of human foveal cones between 400 and 500nm."Vision Res.1975Vol 15161171
60. Srinivasan M.V., Lehrer M., Horridge G.A."Visual figure-ground discrimination in the honeybee: the role of motion parallax at boundaries."Proc. R. Soc. London B1990Vol 238331350
61. Stout A.B."Daylillies, the wild species and garden clones of Hemerocallis."MacmillanNew York1934
62. Straw R.M."Floral isolation in Penstemon"Am. Nat.1956Vol 904753
63. Struwe G."Spectral sensitivity of single photoreceptors in the compound eye of a tropical butterfly."J. Comp. Physiol.1972Vol 79197201
64. Sutherland S.D., Vickery R.K.Jr."On the relative importance of floral color, shape, and nectar rewards in attracting pollinators to Mimulus"Great Basin Nat.1993Vol 53107117
65. Temeles E."A new dimension to hummingbird-flower relationships."Oecologia1996Vol 105517523
66. Varela F.J, Palacios A.G., Goldsmith T.H.,"Color vision of birds"Vision, brain, and behavior of birds. Zeigler H.P., Bischof H.J.MIT PressCambridge, MA19937798
67. Vickery R.K.Jr."Pollinator preferences for yellow, orange, and red flowers of Mimulus verbenaceus, M. cardinalis"Great Basin Nat.1992Vol 52145148
68. Vogel S.,"Christian Konrad Sprengel's theory of the flower: the cradle of floral ecology"Floral ecology. Lloyd D.G., Barrett S.C.H.Chapman & HallNew York19964462
69. Waser N.M."Competition for hummingbird pollination and sequential flowering in two Colorado wildflowers."Ecology1978Vol 59934944
70. Waser N.M."Pollinator availability as a determinant of flowering time in ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)."Oecologia1979Vol 39107121
71. Waser N.M."A comparison of distances flown by different visitors to flowers of the same species."Oecologia1982Vol 55251257
72. Waser N.M.,"The adaptive nature of floral traits: ideas and evidence"Pollination biology. Real L.A.Academic PressNew York1983241285
73. Waser N.M., Chittka L., Price M.V., Williams N., Ollerton J."Generalization in pollination systems, and why it matters."Ecology1996Vol 7710431060
74. Wilson P."Selection for pollination success and the mechanical fit of Impatiens flowers around bumblebee bodies."Biol. J. Linn. Soc.1995Vol 55355383
75. Yang E., Osorio D."Spectral sensitivities of photoreceptors and lamina monopolar cells in the dragonfly, Hemicordulia tau."J. Comp. Physiol. A1991Vol 169663669

Article metrics loading...



Can't access your account?
  • Tools

  • Add to Favorites
  • Printable version
  • Email this page
  • Subscribe to ToC alert
  • Get permissions
  • Recommend to your library

    You must fill out fields marked with: *

    Librarian details
    Your details
    Why are you recommending this title?
    Select reason:
    Israel Journal of Plant Sciences — Recommend this title to your library
  • Export citations
  • Key

  • Full access
  • Open Access
  • Partial/No accessInformation