Seeing in colour: A hundred years of studies on bee vision since the work of the Nobel laureate Karl Von Frisch

Adrian G. Dyer, Jair E. Garcia, Mani Shrestha, Klaus Lunau

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One hundred years ago it was often assumed that the capacity to perceive colour required a human brain. Then in 1914 a young Austrian researcher working at Munich University in Germany published evidence that honeybees could be trained to collect sugar water from a 'blue' coloured card, and find the colour among a number of different shades of achromatic grey. Von Frisch thus established honeybees as an important model of sensory processing in animals, and for work including his demonstration that bees used a symbolic dance language, won a Nobel Prize in 1973. This work led to the establishment of several research groups in Germany that developed a rich understanding of how bee vision has shaped flower colour evolution in the Northern Hemisphere. Applying these insights to Australian native bees offers great insights due to the long-term geological isolation of the continent. Australian bees have a phylogenetically ancient colour visual system and similar colour perception to honeybees. In Australia similar patterns of flower colour evolution have resulted and provide important evidence of parallel evolution, thanks to the pioneering work of Karl von Frisch 100 years ago.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-72
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Biogeography
  • Climate
  • Flower
  • Photography
  • Pollinator

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