ScienceShot: Stripes and Scarlets All the Buzz

If gentlemen prefer blondes, bees prefer highlights and redheads. A new study reveals that bumblebees prefer red flowers over any other color tested—although striped flowers run a close second. To determine the insects' color preferences, researchers planted four different patches of flowers with 48 snapdragons each—24 red and 24 of either ivory, white, pink, or bright-pink stripes on a white background—and watched for 3 weeks to see which flowers drew more bees. The red blossoms pulled in the vast majority of visits: 80% when mixed with ivory, 76% with white, and 64% with pink. Only when mixed with the striped flowers did they fall to a statistically insignificant 55%. The researchers believe the stripes attract bees because they help guide them to the nectar in the center of the flower, they report today in New Phytologist. The preference for red is odd, however, considering that bees technically can't see red; their eyes have receptors for only green, blue, and ultraviolet light. The scientists speculate that they may perceive the color in contrast to other, lighter colors, much as how humans see the color black.

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