Science 101: What and how do insects see?

Journal Article by: William C. Robertson, Ph.D. Digital resources are stored online in your NSTA Library.

Insect vision is both simple and complex. It’s simple in that insects can’t focus and generally see a blur. It’s complex in that insects are very good at detecting motion, they can see in almost any direction, they can use polarized ultraviolet light from the sky to navigate, and they can use ultraviolet light reflected from flowers to keep that “birds and bees” thing going.

  • Elementary

A selection from Science and Children—September 2010

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Reviews (2)
  • on Wed Sep 21, 2011 8:13 PM

Insects have compound eyes, made of sections. Years ago I bought a bunch of dollar store multi-faceted “kaleidoscopes” that mimic the composition of the insect eye. My middle school students have been fascinated by using the lenses to see how an insect would view their everyday world. To help them understand the similarities, I shared the link that contains an up close view of a dragonfly eye and one that shows the head of the dragonfly with the eye. The students were able to see the similarity between the kaleidoscope model and the dragonfly eye. Insects with compound eyes are more adept at detecting motion than those without. This ability aids in the insects survival. My students were also intrigued with why insects eyes on the sides of their heads instead of in front. This article helped them understand how these unique abilities added to their ability to survive. Robertson continues to explain the complexities of the anatomy of the insect eye.

Sandra Gady  (Renton, WA)
Sandra Gady (Renton, WA)

  • on Thu Jun 30, 2011 12:51 PM

This is a very interesting article with a great deal to learn about. One learns about the nature of an insect’s eye and how a compound image improves the life of insects. One also learns about wave frequencies within the visible spectrum and how some insects rely on different frequencies of light to ‘see’. Included in this is a section about polarized light and nonpolarized light. From reading this we learn that insect and human vision is different. This is a very good read and we learn that there is a ‘toy’ that will help students understand as well.

Adah  (San Antonio, TX)
Adah (San Antonio, TX)

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