Spectral heterogeneity of honeybee ommatidia

Naturwissenschaften. 2005 Oct;92(10):464-7. doi: 10.1007/s00114-005-0018-5. Epub 2005 Oct 28.


The honeybee compound eye is equipped with ultraviolet, blue, and green receptors, which form the physiological basis of a trichromatic color vision system. We studied the distribution of the spectral receptors by localizing the three mRNAs encoding the opsins of the ultraviolet-, blue- and green-absorbing visual pigments. The expression patterns of the three opsin mRNAs demonstrated that three distinct types ommatidia exist, refuting the common assumption that the ommatidia composing the bee compound eye contain identical sets of spectral receptors. We found that type I ommatidia contain one ultraviolet and one blue receptor, type II ommatidia contain two ultraviolet receptors, and type III ommatidia have two blue receptors. All the three ommatidial types contain six green receptors. The ommatidia appear to be distributed rather randomly over the retina. The ratio of type I, II, and III ommatidia was about 44:46:10. Type III ommatidia appeared to be slightly more frequent (18%) in the anterior part of the ventral region of the eye. Retinal heterogeneity and ommatidial randomness, first clearly demonstrated in butterflies, seems to be a common design principle of the eyes of insects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / anatomy & histology
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Color Perception*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Invertebrate / anatomy & histology*
  • Retinal Pigments / genetics
  • Retinal Pigments / physiology*


  • Retinal Pigments