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The unmistakable eyes of Megachile aurifrons, also known as the “Golden-browed Resin Bee”, makes this species stand-out. The female of course, have the beautiful red eyes, whilst the male bee of the species have yellow-red eyes.

Megachile aurifrons © Gary Taylor
The female Megachile aurifrons © Gary Taylor
Megachile aurifrons © Gary Taylor
The male Megachile aurifrons © Gary Taylor

But did you know that the Megachile aurifrons actually have five eyes? Well, actually all bee species have five eyes.

If you look closely at the top of the heads, you will observe three little bumps. These three bumps are eyes called ocellus, or “simple eyes”.

You’ve probably heard of the term “compound eyes”, they are called “compound” because each eye is made up of thousands of individual lenses, all at a slightly different angle to the others which give the bee an overall image of it’s immediate surroundings.

Megachile aurifrons © Gary Taylor
The five eyes of the Megachile aurifrons © Gary Taylor

However they are not so good with distance, basically speaking, they are short sighted. So you may well ask, how do they navigate over long distances so well and avoid predators? Well that’s where the “simple eyes” come in. Each simple eye has only one lens and their function is basically to detect light and dark. A bit like the light/motion sensor on your security system, but with a memory. It can’t tell the difference between a moth fluttering around up close to it and something large like a person further away, it only knows by the sudden change in the light pattern that there’s something there (which is why it’s so hard to sneak up on them).

As for navigation, as anyone who knows a bit about mapping will tell you, to do it accurately requires triangulation, which is why bees have three of these “simple eyes”. It not only allows them to map their surroundings accurately but also track the movement of the sun in relation to the horizon at the same time, providing perfect orientation of where they are at all times.

Megachile aurifrons © Gary Taylor
The red eyes of the female Megachile aurifrons © Gary Taylor

You may well ask, what about cloudy days? And how do they see flowers if their eyesight isn’t so great? Well, bees don’t see the same colour spectrum as us humans. Bees see the lower end of the spectrum, the green, blue, violet and even ultraviolet end, so they can still see the sun’s ultraviolet rays through the clouds, which is also why bees like blue flowers so much. And here’s the really cool bit, although we can’t see it without ultraviolet detection gadgets, a lot of flowers that attract bees (but aren’t blue) have developed ultraviolet markers on their petals which to the bees look like neon signs pointing to the nectar on offer.

Images and content contribution by Gary Taylor, Western Australia

  • Scientific classification
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Hymenoptera
  • Family: Megachilidae
  • Genus: Megachile
  • Species: M. aurifrons
  • Binomial name: Megachile aurifrons

Footnote & References

  1. The unmistakable eyes of Megachile aurifrons by Gary Taylor,
  2. Megachile aurifrons, Images and content contribution by Gary Taylor, Western Australia