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How Bees See Flowers Pollinator Porn How Bees See Flowers Pollinator Porn

How Bees See Flowers Pollinator Porn

by Nicola Twilley
December 13, 2010


A new Floral Reflectance Database created by scientists at Imperial College London and Queen Mary, University of London, shows humans what plants actually look like to different pollinating insects.

Professor Lars Chittka from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences explained to the BBC that "much of the colored world that's accessible to bees and other animals with UV receptors is entirely invisible for us. In order to see that invisible part of the world, we need this special machinery."

The free database works by combining "spectroreflective" measurements of petals and leaves with micro-electrode-based studies of how different insects see, so that researchers can generate different views of each plant depending on the pollinator they are studying. 

The resulting images are gorgeous, but understanding how the world appears to insects is not just a scientific party trick. According to Chittka, the database has a range of important potential uses, not least of which is in food production:

"Every third bite that you consume at the dinner table is the result of insect pollinators' work. In order to utilize insects for commercial pollination purposes, we need to understand how insects see flowers.

We need to understand what kind of a light climate we need to generate in commercial glass houses to facilitate detection of flowers by bees."

I absolutely love this idea: instead of simply constructing greenhouses, we could be designing lightscapes for optimal pollination. A basic agricultural building typology becomes an exercise in sensory design for other species.

In any case, you can read more in the open-access journal PLoS ONE, or check out the database for yourself.

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