bee biology

Will different colors help my bees find the right hive?

The spectrum of visible light for honey bees is shifted toward the ultraviolet end. They see things that we can’t in the shorter ultraviolet wave lengths. On the other hand, bees don’t see red. A red flower appears to them as a black spot.

Many flowers have patterns on their petals that reflect ultraviolet light. These patterns have evolved to attract bees, and also to help them find the nectar in a flower. These patterns, called honey guides, may appear as rays or spots leading into the interior of the flower.

According to Jürgen Tautz in his book The Buzz about Bees, bees are quite skilled at discriminating between colors as they approach flowers, but have more trouble discerning colors once they leave a feeding site and head back home. However, patterns are another matter. Bees can discriminate between patterns whether they are approaching a field of flowers or approaching their home hive.

Tautz writes that a row of brightly colored hives each of a different color—say one green, one red, one yellow, one blue—doesn’t aid the bee in finding the correct hive. But hives painted with colorful distinguishing patterns, especially around the hive entrance, can help the bees find the right home.



  • Hi Rusty.
    I have Jürgen Tautz’s book, The Buzz about Bees, on order.

    Thank you for these tremendous insights.

    I have taken over my old man’s 2 hives and have yet to do the research. The hive is painted white (other original wood colors).

    They both are isolated apart with telescoping roof and gable roof, but I would like to protect them with rain jackets from rain.

    The temporary black colour “rain jackets” I have cut to size are thicket pond liner polymer material which would work well in its stiffness as an entrance overhang and pliable enough to tie over the length of the sides.

    Concerned inference:

    1. Black is seen as a threat and the change in appearance may disorientate them?

    ps. I’m looking out from suppliers for a likely green option or should the covers match the hives brown and white hives as solution?

    Will appreciate your sagacious thoughts on this please.

    • Sky,

      Black is fine. People wrap their hive in black tarpaper and similar things all the time. Do not worry about it.

  • Addendum: It’s a temporary solution before replacing the hive architecture and apiary setup which will take me a few months to prepare. Apologies for the typo errors.

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