Bees and Color
Date: June 2006
Are bee attracted to any particular color. I am
planning to purchase a yellow kayak and was told yellow attracts
bees. Is there any truth to this?
I think someone is trying an "old wives tale" on you. Bees have vision that
is skewed to the blue end of the human visible spectrum. They do not see
red. Having spent much time with bees, I have never noticed an attraction
to yellow. They do, however, sense black (and since black is the absence
color, red would appear black to them) as a sign of danger. It has been
suggested that this is an inborn reaction to the potential danger to their
colonies from predators (bear and other furry animals) that are often
Their reaction to black would be related to the proximity to their hive.
Their sting is generally used only for protecting the homestead.
Bees are more prone to take exception to certain odors than to color. But
this becomes a very complicated subject and is unlikely to be a factor for
your kayak adventures.
Hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets are potentially a different subject...
though many people wrongly lump these groups together.
a Keeper of the Bees
My source says bees don't see red, but can "see" even into the ultraviolet
part of the electromagnetic spectrum that humans can't see into directly,
i.e. neglecting fluorescence. On the other hand, there are other factors
that play important roles. Lumping together bees, hornets and yellow
jackets -- contrast between colors makes a difference even if the insect
only "sees" black and white, and no color at all. Chemical attractants are
important, some detectable by humans as flower fragrance, but I wouldn't be
surprised if there were other chemical attractants humans can't detect. Bees
"dance" at the hive when a forager returns to the hive. It is pretty certain
that they are communicating direction and distance to the source. Soda and
beer attract bees etc. -- the picnic effect -- probably due to CO2, but I
don't think anyone is really sure. Perfumes seem to attract the attention of
these insects, as well as mosquitoes. For more information see:
My guess is you should paint your kayak red, but remember contrast
counts too, so it may make no difference.
Bees are indeed attracted to yellow, blue, and white objects. They also
are attracted to colors in the ultraviolet range that we cannot see.
However, I doubt you will have problems with swarms of bees hovering over
your boat. You may have a curious forager hover around it every once and a
while, but it should not bother you unless you try to smash it. If you are
really worried, get a red kayak instead. As near as we can tell (at least
for honeybees), bees can't distinguish red from grey.
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Update: June 2012