Can Bees Fly in the Rain? (Sometimes)

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Who hasn’t seen bees out enjoying bright sunny warm days?  They fly from flower to flower looking for nectar or pollen.  But what about cloudy wet days?  Can bees fly in the rain?  Sometimes, yes they do and it depends on the severity of the weather too. The threat of a storm with large raindrops may prevent your honey bees from leaving their hive.

Honey Bees do React to Wet Weather

Wet honey bee worker can not fly during a rain storm image.

As remarkable as they are, honey bees are cold-blooded insects. Their behavior reacts to changes in temperature and they also respond to precipiation.

While they prefer nice weather, anyone who owns a beehive will admit to seeing bees flying about in light rain or brief showers.   Of course, this is especially true 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 the return and leave again. However, flying on a rainy day, or in a serious shower, is a risk to a worker honey bees

Can Honey Bees Fly if They Get Wet?

When the wings of a honey bee get wet, they become heavy.  This makes flying more difficult causing the bee’s wing beats to decrease.  A heavy rain can even break a bee’s wing.

But, heavy wet wings are one one problem.  As water droplets adhere to the honey bee’s body fuzz, it becomes more weighed down and the extra weight requires more energy to remain in motion.

Wet Bees Need More Energy to Fly

Energy is important to a field bee and flying in the rain may require more energy that she has to make it back to the hive. She may actually fall to the ground.

Even if the forager remains in flight, she may become so exhausted that she can not make it back to the hive entrance.

I see a similar issue at my water garden in late Winter. If the foraging temperature is marginal, some bees end up 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.

Efficient Foraging of Bees

The honey bee colony is one of the most efficient organisms on the planet.  Yes, bees can travel great distances (for their size) to find resources. But, they usually gather the best food sources from the closet location. 

Time is money – or honey?  They do not invest the energy in flying far away to a food source if something better is close by. The same applies to bad weather: strong winds or rain.

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Just as in situations with 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.

Worker bee trying to fly in rain on a wet surface image.

Bees Know When it is Going to Rain

It is believed they use their sensitivity to temperature, humidity, wind speed and barometric pressure to detect inclement weather approaching. Not only does rain keep more foragers at home. It can also put them in a bad mood.

Approaching poor weather can trigger defensive behavior of honey bee colonies. Beekeepers notice a higher degree of aggressive bee actions in the apiary during these times.

The colony is aware that threatening weather is moving into the area.  This evokes a strong need to protect the young brood and food resources stored in the hive.

All new beekeepers are taught to avoid performing hive inspections on days when rainy weather is threatening. 

Honey bee and wet flower image.

How a Colony Reacts Before a Storm

Summer afternoon thunder storms coming over the mountains is a common occurrence in my location.  As the storm get closers, 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 do the 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 there is a lot of variability in the world of bees.  Even among honey bees, some hives will fly in colder or wetter weather than others. 

This is due to the genetics of the varieties of bees in your hives – genetics also is reflect in different 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.   Most of them are larger with sturdier more powerful wings.

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. Even established over-wintered hives may be running low on food and anxious for fresh pollen and nectar.

Food sources such as Red Maple blossoms or dandelions 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.

This fresh food helps with colony buildup before the time of the first honey flow. But, if you don’t see much activity on a stormy day, don’t worry. The bees will return.


Can a bee survive if it gets wet?

Yes, as long as the insects body temperature does not fall too low. The bee can dry off and return to normal.

How do you warm up a wet bee?

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.

Are bees active when raining?

The activity level of bees during rain depends on the type of insect. Bumble bees forage in tougher conditions that honey bees. And due to genetics, some honey bee colonies vary in their activity during wet conditions.

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