Updated: 1st March 2021
People sometimes wonder 'How many eyes do bees have?' Bees have 5 eyes. As soon as this fact is learned, naturally, people want to know:
'why do bees have 5 eyes?'
The short answer is:
Bees need eyes not only to pick up colors and UV markings in flowers, as well as shapes, but also to navigate. Thus the two sets of eyes are adapted to perform different tasks simultaneously. The two large eyes at the side of the head (known as 'compound eyes') are used for picking up shapes and colours in the immediate environment, whilst the three small eyes on the top of the head (known as the 'ocelli') are important for navigation and orientation.
More information below.
It should be noted, however, that bees are not alone in the insect world for having 5 eyes, and specifically for having 3 ocelli on the top of the head: dragonflies, wasps, and grasshoppers also have them, among others.
In bees, each compound eye is located at the side of the head (in contrast with true flies, for example, which have the two compound facing toward the front).
Each eye comprises thousands of individual lenses. They pick up the immediate environment, color and shapes. These eyes enable bees to see UV markers in the flowers that guide the bee onto the 'landing platform' of the flower, and to the nectar reward.
Each tiny lens of the compound eye perceives the surroundings from a very slightly different angle. The sum total of these images recorded by the many lenses, provide the overall picture of the bee's surroundings.
The ocelli are also called 'simple eyes', because each eye has just one lens, but with many sensory cells.
These simple eyes do not form an image of their immediate environment as the compound eyes do. They are used by bees for orientation and navigation according to the position of the sun.
Interestingly, bees that fly at dusk or dawn have larger ocelli in order that they can pick up on the reduced sunlight when the sun is low in the sky. You can read more about this on my page do bees fly at night.
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