Other Landscapes

Silverweed (Potentilla anserina) Photo: Photo: Bjørn Rørslett
Silverweed (Potentilla anserina)
Photo: Bjørn Rørslett

We humans often assume that when we look around, we are seeing the world as it really is. While we know that other animals have different ranges of vision, we don’t usually think that the animals may be seeing an entirely different landscape.

I’ve talked in previous posts (here and here) about how research has shown that bees are drawn to flowers that emit weak electrical charges as well as blossoms that have a bit of caffeine on tap.

Here are some beautiful images of the invisible world that bees and other insects are seeing. For example, the flower at the beginning of this post, the modest yellow tormentil (Potentilla erecta), is seen quite differently by a bee, which has fewer colors available in the visible light spectrum of color than humans, but many more in the ultraviolet (UV) range. So a bee or other insect might perceive the same flower more like the image on the right.

Some insects better perceive darker colors, and would be drawn to the dark blue version of the anemone below.

Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) Photo: Bjørn Rørslett
Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa)
Photo: Bjørn Rørslett

One recent Australian study has looked at the influence of bee vision on the evolution of flower colors. According to Adrian Dyer of Monash University, “Previous research has determined that color vision present in modern bees actually evolved before angiosperms, meaning the plants probably adapted their flower color to take advantage of pre-existing conditions.”

Bees tend to be loyal to a given type of plant as long as it continues to provide food. Ensuring that it is ‘seen’ by the right pollinator, even using a UV-visible bull’s eye to aid the pollinator’s aim, is an efficient way for a plant to distribute its pollen.

So many different worlds inhabit the very same world we see around us, and we are just beginning to see some of them.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) Photo: Photo: Bjørn Rørslett
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Photo: Bjørn Rørslett


Photographer Bjørn Rørslett’s website – Worth a visit for the wide range of flowers in his UV and infrared catalogue. See what your garden might look like to pollinators.

Proceedings of the Royal Society B studyParallel evolution of angiosperm colour signals: common evolutionary pressures linked to hymenopteran vision by A.G. Dyer, S. Boyd-Gerny, S. McLoughlin, M.G.P. Rosa, V. Simonov & B.B.M. Wong