Indexed on: 21 Jul '09Published on: 21 Jul '09Published in: The Journal of experimental biology
Bees of the genus Apis are important foragers of nectar and pollen resources. Although the European honeybee, Apis mellifera, has been well studied with respect to its sensory abilities, learning behaviour and role as pollinators, much less is known about the other Apis species. We studied the anatomical spatial resolution and absolute sensitivity of the eyes of three sympatric species of Asian honeybees, Apis cerana, Apis florea and Apis dorsata and compared them with the eyes of A. mellifera. Of these four species, the giant honeybee A. dorsata (which forages during moonlit nights) has the lowest spatial resolution and the most sensitive eyes, followed by A. mellifera, A. cerana and the dwarf honeybee, A. florea (which has the smallest acceptance angles and the least sensitive eyes). Moreover, unlike the strictly diurnal A. cerana and A. florea, A. dorsata possess large ocelli, a feature that it shares with all dim-light bees. However, the eyes of the facultatively nocturnal A. dorsata are much less sensitive than those of known obligately nocturnal bees such as Megalopta genalis in Panama and Xylocopa tranquebarica in India. The differences in sensitivity between the eyes of A. dorsata and other strictly diurnal Apis species cannot alone explain why the former is able to fly, orient and forage at half-moon light levels. We assume that additional neuronal adaptations, as has been proposed for A. mellifera, M. genalis and X. tranquebarica, might exist in A. dorsata.