We have all seen bees working outside on warm rain-free days. But, when inclement weather moves in-it has an affect on the bee colony. Can bees fly in the rain? Sometimes, yes they do but it depends on several factors including the severity of the weather and the needs of the colony.
As a beekeeper, I have often seen my bees race home under the threat of an afternoon thunderstorm. Understanding these types of bee facts is an important aid in making hive management decisions.
Can Bees Fly in the Rain?
Yes, anyone who owns a beehive has seen bees flying in light rain or brief showers. This behavior is even more common when the daily temperatures are warm.
A gentle mist is not a big problem for most foraging bees. Activity continues at the hive entrance as they leave and return.
However, flying on a rainy day, or in a serious shower, is a risk to a worker honey bees. Heavy rain storms can break bee wings. And, the threat of a storm may prevent your bees from leaving their hive.
How Rain Affects Bee Behavior
While they prefer dry weather, there is no doubt that the behavior of a honey bee colony is affected by rain.
Fewer trips are made by the bees to collect needed resources. They may also focus more on food sources closer to the hive.
Honey bees are cold-blooded insects. Nature demands that they respond to changes in temperature, windy conditions and yes-rain.
Wet Bees Require More Energy to Fly
Honey bees require a lot of energy to fuel their wing muscles. For the field bees, flying in the rain may require more energy than she has. She may not be able to make it back to the hive and actually fall to the ground.
Even if the bee is able to remain in flight during rain, she may become so exhausted that she can not make it back to the hive entrance. Requiring her to seek shelter in plant leaves, etc.
Cold and Wet
I see a similar issue at my water gardens in late Winter. If the foraging temperature is marginal, some bees end up floating in the cold water.
Their body temperature falls and their flight muscles can not function. Without my efforts to save the tired bees, they die. This problem is similar to an exhausted bee on a rainy day.
Less Efficient Foraging
The honey bee colony is one of the most efficient organisms on the planet. Would we have so many popular honey bee quotes if they were lazy?
While bees can travel great distances (for their size), they usually gather the best food sources from the closest location first.
Time is money – or honey? They do not invest the energy in long flights to a food source if something better is close by. This situation becomes even more important in times of bad weather.
Just as in high winds, a point is reached when the effort is not worth the payoff. It is better to wait out the weather and try again at another time.
So, on windy or rainy days (more than a light sprinkle) most of the workers decide to stay home. With a string of rainy days (especially during the honey flow), honey production is greatly affected.
Bees Know When it is Going to Rain
While we don’t completely understand how – bees can sense approaching rain.
It is believed they use their sensitivity to temperature, humidity, wind speed and barometric pressure to detect incoming inclement weather.
Not only does rain keep more older foragers at home. It can also put them in a bad mood.
Approaching poor weather can trigger increased defensive behavior in honey bees. Beekeepers notice a higher degree of aggressive bee reactions in the apiary during these times.
Aware of threatening weather moving in, the bees feel a strong need to protect the bee brood and food resources in the hive.
Colony Reaction to Incoming Storms
Summer afternoon thunder storms coming over the mountains is a common occurrence in my location.
As the storm get closer, the entrances to the hives become very congested with foraging workers returning from the field.
Unlike activity on a pleasant dry day, these foragers to do not immediately leave the hive after unloading their nectar or pollen. They remain inside where they will be safer from the rain and wind.
Where Bees Go When it Rains
When stormy weather begins, most honey bees that are in the hive will remain there. Foragers in the field but nearby will try to return home in heavy rainfall.
If a bee is too far away or the rain is too hard for flight, she will try to set down in a location that provides shelter – to dry and wait out the bad weather.
Of course, even among honey bees, some hives will fly in colder or wetter weather than others. The various types of honey bees or breeds allow for genetic differences. Differences that affect foraging behavior and even honey bee colors.
Another interesting fact, bumble bees and honey bees share many common traits. But, bumble bees will continue to forage in wetter conditions that honey bees. Of course, they are generally larger with sturdier more powerful wings.
Yes, as long as the bee’s body temperature does not fall too low. The bee can dry off and return to normal.
The activity level of bees during rain depends on the type. Bumble bees forage in worse conditions than honey bees. And due to genetics, some honey bee colonies vary in their activity during wet conditions.
Often, they need no help from us. However, if you want to help a wet bee – carefully place her on a warm surface in a dry spot.
Yes, but wet honey bee wings become heavy making flying more difficult. This causes wing beats per minute to decrease and water droplets adhere to the honey bee’s body fuzz – the extra weight requires more energy to remain in motion.
While bees can fly in the rain, at least to a degree, they realize it is risky. It also may not be profitable as the energy required to gather food resources is greater.
This is one reason that cool, wet weather conditions can be so damaging to honey bee colonies during early Spring.
Food sources such as Red Maple blossoms or dandelions with food for bees may be out there -but the weather is too bad for good foraging. With some luck, the workers will be able to enjoy some good days for collection.