Honey Bees Have Hairy Eyes


The bodies of honey bees are completely covered in hair – even the eyes!  So:

  • why do honey bees have hairy eyes, and
  • how does this interesting feature assist them?

The importance of hairs on the eyes of honey bees

Although the hair on the eyes of honey bees do not really visible at first glance, scientists have access to very powerful equipment that enables them to study the anatomy of bees (and other creatures), and identify features that are not visible to the human eye.

Update:  I now have some excellent photographs to share, courtesy of Isaias Sanchez (USA), revealing the hairy eyes of the bee!

What is clearly visible on close inspection of this fabulous image below, is that the eye is not only surrounded by hairs, they can also be seen on the actual surface of the eye itself.

Close up image showing hairs all around the eyes of the honey bee.Fabulous image showing the hair on the eyes of the bees - it's also a great view of the hair on the legs and rest of the face! Thanks to Isaias Sanchez!


Isaias wrote a kind note to me:

Hello!

I was photographing a bee in my backyard and noticed it had hairy eyes. Learned a bit about why from your site and you mentioned you don't have a photograph of it. Would you like mine?


Thank you Isaias!  More images from Isaias below.

front view of the eye of the honey bees, showing hairs


Side view of the bee, showing hair on the head and thorax and legs

Honey bees (like all flower-foraging insects) get covered in millions of grains of pollen when they are visiting flowers.  This is a deliberate process and part of their method of collecting pollen.  The hair on the eyes of the honey bee is important because the bees’ eyes become covered with pollen too, so the hair prevents the pollen becoming stuck directly to the eyes. 

However, if the pollen was not removed from the eye hairs, then it would become difficult to fly and to navigate.  Therefore, honey bees must remove the pollen from their bodies - and especially their eyes, by transferring the pollen to corbiculae (pollen baskets) on their hind legs for transport back to the hive. 


Honey bee foraging on knapweed.  The bodies of honey bees are completely covered in hair – even the eyes!Honey bee foraging on knapweed. The bodies of honey bees are completely covered in hair – even the eyes!

How do honey bees clean the pollen away from their eyes?

Honey bee worker foraging on a pink wild rose - with a dusting of pollen particles on the bee's body and all over the head and face, as well as full pollen baskets.Honey bee worker foraging on a wild rose - note the dusting of pollen particles on the bee's body, as well as the full pollen baskets.


A study (“Honey bee hairs and pollenkitt are essential for pollen capture and removal”, by Amador et al, published in 2017(1)) used specialised filming techniques (high speed videography) to show honey bees grooming themselves and transferring pollen from the eye hairs to the hind legs. They also demonstrated the importance of a sticky fluid on pollen grains known as pollenkitt.  Pollenkitt has an odor that attracts pollinating insects, whilst possibly helping the pollen grains to adhere to the insect’s body.

In particular, the scientists were interested to know how many ‘swipes’ of their legs over the eyes and body were required by the bees to transfer the pollen onto their hind legs.


What did they find?

Honey bee foraging on hemp agrimony.  It has a visibly hairy head and face.Honey bee foraging on hemp agrimony.


Firstly, the scientists showed that honey bees seem to have a pre-programmed method of cleaning, which doesn’t vary from bee to bee and is not dependent on how dirty the bees are, nor on how much pollen is covering them.  The bees always swipe their eyes in the same way, using their forelegs to swipe across the eyes and antennae.

Furthermore, it takes between 10 and 20 swipes to fully clean the eyes and antennae.

The scientists also showed that pollen grain size is important in cleaning: very small particles of pollen can slip down lower into the spaces between the hairs on the bees’ eyes, whereas larger pollen particles remain suspended near the tips of the eye hairs, and so can be easily removed and collected.

The hairs on the bees’ forelegs are ideal for the job of eye grooming, since the hairs on the legs are slightly longer than the eye hairs, so that they can reach into the spaces between the eye hairs to collect as much pollen as possible.

 

Reference:

(1) Guillermo J Amador, Marguerite Matherne, D'Andre Waller, Megha Mathews1, Stanislav N Gorb and David L Hu : Honey bee hairs and pollenkitt are essential for pollen capture and removal; March 2017; IOP Publishing Ltd - Bioinspir. Biomim. 12 026015.

More articles about bees


Bee-Themed Car Stickers And More

Save the bees plant flowers car bumper sticker
Don't worry bee happy car bumper sticker
Bee kind bee-themed car bumper sticker

COPYRIGHT 2010 - 2021: WWW.BUZZABOUTBEES.NET
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.