A hundred years ago, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Karl von Frisch proved that bees can see colour. Just like humans, bees are trichromatic which means they have three photoreceptors in each eye and the colour combinations they see are based in those three colours.
Our colour combinations are based on red, blue, and green, while bees base their colours on ultraviolet light, blue, and green and this is the reason why bees can’t see the colour red. They can, however, see reddish wavelengths, such as yellow and orange as well as blue-green, blue, violet, and something called “bee’s purple” which is a combination of yellow and ultraviolet light. (That sounds like an amazing colour, but unfortunately, humans can’t see it.)
According to scientists, the most likely colours to attract bees, are purple, violet, and blue, and based on this information, I would have thought the buzzing sound in my backyard was coming from my Dorothy Gordon Grevillea.
But that wasn’t the case according to the bees.
Doing a little more research, I discovered that bees have the ability to see colour much faster than humans and while we may experience difficulty distinguishing one flower from another in a group, bees don’t. They see every individual flower and even the minute colour changes due to the angle of the petals. This is known as iridescence and is often in the UV spectrum which is why we mere humans can’t see it.
But the good news is that bees can. They see all the shiny little parts of the petals and associate them with sugar which makes the flower even more attractive to the bee, and there are lots of shiny petals on my grevilleas at the moment.
Bees are amazing little creatures also capable of seeing depth and dimension – aka 3D – and they can also judge distance. I remember learning at school that they communicate the distance and direction of good foraging sites to the other bees in their hive through their unique little waggle dance.
Bees are so amazing and I’m delighted my backyard is simply buzzing, but I wonder what colour they see when they look at my Spirit of the Anzac Grevillea. I see red and yet bees don’t have a red photoreceptor.
Perhaps those five eyes they have allows them to see the shiny petals of these flowers glowing with vibrant iridescence somewhere within the reddish wavelength. Perhaps. Because it was this grevillea, that was so alive with bees I had to step closer to get a better look.
Then I decided I would catch one.
So, how do you catch a bee?
With a garden full of bright coloured flowers and one camera for starters.
Staying back and very still. You don’t want to get too close and disturb them while they’re working.
Then finally, add lots of patience. Yes, with lots of patience, I eventually got there and captured this amazing shot.
I thought I would plant Grevilleas because they attract birds into our garden, and they do. We often have Brown Honeyeaters attacking the flowers, and there have been a few other birds as well. My sister-in-law spotted a Leather Neck (Noisy Friarbird) and we often have parrots and doves, as well as Willie Wagtails marking their territory. I expected the birds to come.
But I never thought – not for one moment – that I would step out into the garden and it would be alive with bees.
Recently at the Queensland Garden Expo in Nambour, I spoke to the seller I purchased my Grevilleas from last year. He was delighted to know how well they are doing and mentioned they were the best varieties to flower all year round. They certainly are full of flowers at the moment as well as abundant with unopened blooms.
I do love these native shrubs and all the more so now I know that bees love them too.