An Insect’s Eye View of the World

A new database could help to establish how bees see flowers, helping researchers understand more about bees, one of the world’s most important pollinators...
12 December 2010


A new database named FReD could help to establish how bees see flowers, helping researchers understand more about bees, one of the world's most important pollinators...

Bee vision is very different from human vision, they perceive colours we are simply incapable of seeing. 

Most insects have light sensitive cells, or photoreceptors, that are sensitive to ultraviolet, blue and green light and many have four or more receptor types, allowing them to perceive a wide range of wavelengths of light from long to very short.  In comparison, human eyes are just not up to the job of assessing flower appearance objectively. 

Now, for the first time, a database has been developed that collects an extensive range of data on the full reflectance spectrum of flowers, and is freely available online.

Publishing in the open-access journal PLoS One, Sarah Arnold from Queen Mary University of London and colleagues announced the creation of FReD, the Floral Reflectance Database, which contains the reflectance spectrum, or how much light is reflected at different wavelengths, for flowers from all over the world.  

To really understand the environment as perceived by an insect you also need to know which wavelengths the species can detect.  This is also included in FReD and allows researchers to create a "colour space" for an insect, observing flowers specifically from that species' perspective.

FReD is set to grow as its users provide more reflectance data from different species and habitats and, although the priority so far has been bees, improve the catalogue of insects available.

As FReD contains data on flowers of different ages but from the same species, it can also be used by botanists researching global trends in flower colour, plant growth and development; by ecologists studying habitat diversity and interactions; as well as those researching the vital role that pollinators play in our environment.


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