Colour processing in complex environments: insights from the visual system of bees

Proc Biol Sci. 2011 Mar 22;278(1707):952-9. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.2412. Epub 2010 Dec 8.


Colour vision enables animals to detect and discriminate differences in chromatic cues independent of brightness. How the bee visual system manages this task is of interest for understanding information processing in miniaturized systems, as well as the relationship between bee pollinators and flowering plants. Bees can quickly discriminate dissimilar colours, but can also slowly learn to discriminate very similar colours, raising the question as to how the visual system can support this, or whether it is simply a learning and memory operation. We discuss the detailed neuroanatomical layout of the brain, identify probable brain areas for colour processing, and suggest that there may be multiple systems in the bee brain that mediate either coarse or fine colour discrimination ability in a manner dependent upon individual experience. These multiple colour pathways have been identified along both functional and anatomical lines in the bee brain, providing us with some insights into how the brain may operate to support complex colour discrimination behaviours.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Color Perception*
  • Color Vision
  • Cues
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Environment*
  • Flowers / anatomy & histology
  • Learning
  • Nerve Net
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Invertebrate / physiology