What Do Bees Do At Night?

What Do Bees Do At Night?
What Do Bees Do At Night?

Have you ever wondered what do bees do at night? Of course, we know they are busy collecting nectar and pollen during the day, among other tasks. But what do they do at night?

People have asked a few questions about bees’ behavior at night.

Honey bee resting on a leaf, with pollen stuck to its back leg

Even though I know the answers to most of these, especially regarding European honeybees, I wanted to test my knowledge and learn more.

Here’s what I found.

Are Bees Active At Night?

Most honeybees, including the European honeybee, are diurnal. This means they are active during the day and inactive at night.

However, there are species known to be active at night, so they come out from their nests and hives and forage during the nighttime.

There is also an in-between, where bees forage at night only when conditions allow them to do so efficiently. For example, when there is at least a half-full moon.

Animals that are active under these conditions are called crepuscular. For example, the Asian honeybee (Apis dorsata) and the African honeybee (Apis mellifera adansonii) are crepuscular species.

Do Bees Come Out At Night?

After sundown, European honeybees usually return home and stay inside the hive, regardless of their role in the colony. The young bees that handle tasks inside the hive don’t go out until they are old enough, and the forager bees usually rest at night.

Honeybees have evolved to be diurnal. Their internal clocks use cues from their environment, such as sunlight, to perform activities like foraging.

The circadian rhythm or clock is involved significantly in many bee behaviors, like sleep, work, and dancing communication.

It turns out, according to studies, the circadian rhythm of honeybees is genetically more similar to those of mammals than the fruit fly, another insect.

Another reason it is unlikely to see honeybees flying at night is their tolerance to temperature.

While bees have evolved to tolerate different temperatures depending on where they live, cold enough conditions could put them into a chill coma or even kill them.

Unusual Reasons Why Bees Might Come Outside At Night

While it is uncommon to see European honeybees coming out of their hive at night, occasionally there can be a disruption of their normal sleep cycle, caused by external factors like bright lights near the hive that can attract them before they have fallen asleep.

Parasites and diseases can also explain unusual behavior. For example, the ‘Zombie Fly’ parasite is well-known to affect the normal sleep cycle of bees and make them abandon their hive at night or under poor weather conditions. Although it’s natural to see bees attracted to light, this parasite can increase the intensity of this attraction.

Where Do Bees Go At Night?

After the sun goes down, bees go back to their hives. This will keep them safe from predators and shelter them from low temperatures and other adverse conditions like snow and rain.

But, as I mentioned before, there are some species of bees that do the opposite. Instead of going to their nests, they go out to forage at night. Most of these nocturnal species live in tropical, sub-tropical or arid areas in the northern hemisphere.

Do Bees Ever Sleep?

Most honeybees sleep at night. Once the sun goes down and they return to the hive, they start their period of inactivity by adopting a particular position and remaining still for a few hours.

Not all the bees in the colony sleep the same, though. Young bees show differences in how they rest due to their around-the-clock role.

Can Bees See At Night?

Yes, bees can see at night, although not very well due to the natural design of their eyes.

Honeybees, like most diurnal insects, have appositional compound eyes. In this optical design, each lens with its photoreceptors is an independent unit (known as Ommatidium) and sees the light from a small region.

Close-up of a honey bee's face

At night, the lenses of the ommatidia cannot collect enough light. Thus, animals with appositional eyes depend on daylight to guide themselves accurately during their daily tasks.

If bees are not designed to see well in the dark, how do the species that forage at night see in the dark?

Researchers have asked this same question and have some clues as to why this is possible.

Bees and other insects with appositional eyes that have adapted to a nocturnal life, enhance their night vision by summing up photons in space and time. This allows them to discriminate coarse images under the moonlight.

In other experiments with Indian Carpenter bees (Xylocopa tranquebarica), researchers found they could discriminate landmarks according to their color even under dim light – unlike other honeybees and vertebrates, which are color-blind under these conditions.

Furthermore, physical adaptions can be noticed in these nocturnal bees, like more prominent ocelli (the small eyes located between the compound eyes) and slightly larger compound eyes with probably more ommatidia than diurnal species.

Do Bees Fly At Night?

Forager honeybees usually recharge their batteries at night, and the younger bees don’t leave the hive. Therefore, it’s unusual to see European honeybees flying at night unless something disrupts their normal behavior (or the occasional rebellious bee refusing to go to bed).

Another reason why they won’t be seen flying at night is the temperature. Bees stop flying when temperatures drop below 50º F (10º C). However, they become active again when the temperature reaches at least 60.8º F (16º C).

So, especially on cold nights, honeybees will avoid flying and leaving the hive.

On the other hand, nocturnal species like the Indian carpenter bee fly at night to forage and bring back resources to their colony.  

Do Bees Buzz At Night?

Funnily enough, I ran into a news article about a couple in Spain who were kept awake at night by a strange buzzing sound in their bedroom for TWO years! Imagine their surprise when they found a colony of around 80,000 bees in-between their bedroom walls.

When bees fly, their rapid wingbeats create vibrations that we perceive as a buzzing sound.

However, if most bee species are inactive at night and stay inside the hive sleeping, do they buzz at night, even though they’re not flying?

Some studies indicate that, when bees stop flying, they stop buzzing. For example, researchers monitored bees by recording their sounds across North America’s total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. The bees stopped their activities as the eclipse reached its darkest point.

Researchers could tell they stopped flying and foraging because their buzzing sound stopped. 

So, if the buzzing stops when bees are inactive, why was the couple in Spain kept awake at night?

Well, I have a theory.

Young bees that have tasks inside the hive have a different pattern of activity/inactivity from forager bees. While the latter group is sleeping at night, the other is tending to the brood and queen throughout the night. Therefore, they are not entirely inactive.

Young bees wouldn’t fly, but they would move and vibrate their bodies, possibly creating a buzzing sound.

During the noisy hours of the day, a sound like this would be hard to notice. But at night, when it’s usually quiet, the buzzing might seem comparatively louder – especially when you have 80,000 bees close to your bed!

Now, if we are talking about other types of bees like those who forage at night, they do buzz at night given they need to fly to collect resources and bring them back to their colonies.

Do Bees Sting At Night?

There is no reason to believe bees wouldn’t sting when facing a threat, even if it’s at night. Nevertheless, when they are asleep, their stimuli thresholds increase significantly.

This means they would need a more intense stimulus to react like they would during the day when awake.

So, to illustrate, if you approach their beehive at night, they probably won’t notice. But if you do something more aggressive, like opening it and taking out frames, well…that’s a different story.

Do Bees Attack At Night?

Even during the day, bees are friendly. However, they have an effective defensive response whenever their hive is threatened by predators and unwelcome visitors.

A particular study looked at the defensive response of European honeybees and Africanized honeybees. They found they both actively defended their nests during the night against intruders, like wax moths.

The way they attacked and defended themselves from the moths was similar to how they would do it during the day, with only one exception: they didn’t fly.

Consistent with their daytime behavior, the Africanized bees attacked more intensely, persistently, and quickly than the European honeybees.

Although not confirmed in the study, I believe the darkness and low temperature at night could be a couple of the factors why they didn’t fly during the attacks. But make no mistake, if you disturb a beehive at night, chances are you will still end up with a sting or two – maybe more.

So… What Do Bees Do At Night?

There will be a few differences depending on the species. But, in general terms, most honeybees will be sleeping in their warm and cozy beehive.

Once the sun goes down, they fly to their nest to shelter themselves from predators and adverse weather conditions. At the same time, they use the nighttime to rest before another busy day.

Bees usually don’t come out at night unless something disrupts their regular behavior pattern.

The absence of light will impair their vision as their eyes are not designed for nocturnal life. And this is another reason why it would be unlikely to see them flying at night.

The fact that bees are resting at night doesn’t mean they wouldn’t defend their hive. While they might not chase you, they will sting you if they feel threatened. So it might be best to leave your bees alone, even during the quiet hours of the night.

Click here to read this article in Spanish.

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