Welcome to our new website

Seeing in the dark: vision and visual behaviour in nocturnal bees and wasps
Eric J. Warrant


In response to the pressures of predation, parasitism and competition for limited resources, several groups of (mainly) tropical bees and wasps have independently evolved a nocturnal lifestyle. Like their day-active (diurnal) relatives, these insects possess apposition compound eyes, a relatively light-insensitive eye design that is best suited to vision in bright light. Despite this, nocturnal bees and wasps are able to forage at night, with many species capable of flying through a dark and complex forest between the nest and a foraging site, a behaviour that relies heavily on vision and is limited by light intensity. In the two best-studied species – the Central American sweat bee Megalopta genalis (Halictidae) and the Indian carpenter bee Xylocopa tranquebarica (Apidae) – learned visual landmarks are used to guide foraging and homing. Their apposition eyes, however, have only around 30 times greater optical sensitivity than the eyes of their closest diurnal relatives, a fact that is apparently inconsistent with their remarkable nocturnal visual abilities. Moreover, signals generated in the photoreceptors, even though amplified by a high transduction gain, are too noisy and slow to transmit significant amounts of information in dim light. How have nocturnal bees and wasps resolved these paradoxes? Even though this question remains to be answered conclusively, a mounting body of theoretical and experimental evidence suggests that the slow and noisy visual signals generated by the photoreceptors are spatially summed by second-order monopolar cells in the lamina, a process that could dramatically improve visual reliability for the coarser and slower features of the visual world at night.

View Full Text