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Dr. Murphy's Article - Well, I'll BEE... Bee Sees UV

When I was a kid my sister and I would go hiking on a wooded Adirondack trail behind my grandparents’ camp. The start of the trail was rugged and involved a rigorous uphill climb but the surprise waiting at the top was always a feast for the eyes. It was a clearing in the middle of the forest filled with gorgeous purple and pink wild flowers.

I remember trying to scan and study each part of it so as to not miss any of its beauty but despite my efforts to visually devour the scene, there were parts of it that my eyes simply missed. I was limited by what the human eye was built to see and had no idea that there were other hidden messages appearing in nature and the animal kingdom which were “painted” in wavelengths of the light spectrum that I as a human simply could not see, namely UV. The ability to see UV is known as tetrachromatic vision.

Bees have tetrachromatic vision which means that they can see ultraviolet wavelengths and as it turns out, flowers have patterns of UV within their petals which attract bees and point out the treasure trove of nectar and pollen awaiting them at their center. I had always thought that bees were drawn to the bright colors of flowers that we humans appreciate but actually, we see the same flower quite differently than they do.

The drawing of how bees see in this video is based upon photographs by nature photographer Bjorn Rorslett who attempted to artistically demonstrate how a human being versus a bee would see the same flower because of the bee’s ability to detect the UV patterns. You can find more of his incredible work in ultraviolet and infrared renditions online.

If you have followed my work on the guest blog before then you know I am enthralled with finding the “science hidden in plain sight.” In 2011, I wrote a Guest Blog article on turkeys being able to see ultraviolet and how they use ultraviolet secretions on their feathers to attract mates.

It is eye-opening to me that despite looking at nature and the earth with wide eyed curiosity, I am still missing parts of it but perhaps, that is where science comes in. Science shows us the things that we may not have discovered on our own. Through the studies and findings of others, past and present, we are able to reveal the hidden wonder in nature and the animal kingdom that we would have never known about otherwise. There is a lot of science hidden in plain sight.

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Photos in video from: stock xchng
Drawings by Cheryl G. Murphy, OD

Originally featured at Scientific American

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