The buzz around spatial resolving power and contrast sensitivity in the honeybee, Apis mellifera

Laura A. Ryan, Rhianon Cunningham, Nathan S. Hart, Yuri Ogawa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Most animals rely on vision to perform a range of behavioural tasks and variations in the anatomy and physiology of the eye likely reflect differences in habitat and life history. Moreover, eye design represents a balance between often conflicting requirements for gathering different forms of visual information. The trade-off between spatial resolving power and contrast sensitivity is common to all visual systems, and European honeybees (Apis mellifera) present an important opportunity to better understand this trade-off. Vision has been studied extensively in A. mellifera as it is vital for foraging, navigation and communication. Consequently, spatial resolving power and contrast sensitivity in A. mellifera have been measured using several methodologies; however, there is considerable variation in estimates between methodologies. We assess pattern electroretinography (pERG) as a new method for assessing the trade-off between visual spatial and contrast information in A. mellifera. pERG has the benefit of measuring spatial contrast sensitivity from higher order visual processing neurons in the eye. Spatial resolving power of A. mellifera estimated from pERG was 0.54 cycles per degree (cpd), and contrast sensitivity was 16.9. pERG estimates of contrast sensitivity were comparable to previous behavioural studies. Estimates of spatial resolving power reflected anatomical estimates in the frontal region of the eye, which corresponds to the region stimulated by pERG. Apis mellifera has similar spatial contrast sensitivity to other hymenopteran insects with similar facet diameter (Myrmecia ant species). Our results support the idea that eye anatomy has a substantial effect on spatial contrast sensitivity in compound eyes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-32
Number of pages8
JournalVision Research
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Compound eye
  • Invertebrate vision
  • Pattern electroretinogram
  • Visual acuity


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