April 6 (UPI) -- Honey bees have surprisingly good eyesight, according to new research out of Australia -- much better than previously thought.
Though testing the limits of the bee's small but powerful brain is a popular scientific endeavor, few prior studies have looked at bees' eyesight. Those that have were conducted in dark laboratories.
"Bright daylight and dark laboratories are two completely different environments," researcher Steven Wiederman said in a news release.
Bees have thousands of photoreceptors, each of which is affected by light intensity.
Wiederman and his colleagues at the University of Adelaide decided to test bee eyesight in ideal seeing conditions. They set out to measure the object resolution and maximum detectability limit of bee vision. In other words, they wanted to measure the smallest object a bee can make out and the distance at which a bee can see an object.
The researchers measured the neural response of single photoreceptors to determine object resolution.
"We found that in the frontal part of the eye, where the resolution is maximized, honey bees can clearly see objects that are as small as 1.9 degrees -- that's approximately the width of your thumb when you stretch your arm out in front of you," explained researcher Elisa Rigosi. "This is 30% better eyesight than has been previously recorded."
Bees can make out but not focus clearly on objects even smaller, roughly 0.6 degrees.
"That's one third of your thumb width at arm's length," Rigosi said.
The research results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggest bees can recognize and flee potential predators much more quickly than previously thought.
More importantly for humans, scientists believe their findings can be used to improve visual technologies.
"Importantly, these findings could also be useful in our work on designing bio-inspired robotics and robot vision, and for basic research on bee biology," Wiederman said.