Do Bees Fly at Night?

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Honey bees are known for their tireless work ethic and remarkable navigation skills. But as twilight approaches, many beekeepers and bee enthusiasts ask – do bees fly at night? Surely, these hard-working insects could accomplish twice as much if they worked around the clock. Join me as we take a look at the nocturnal habit of honey bees and consider why most bees don’t fly in the dark.

Honey bee foraging on flower as darkness arrives.

The way in which honey bees fly is already a miraculous feat. After stumping scientists for years, we now understand much more about bee flight. Yet, they are still subject to the rules of nature and we see diversity among different species.

Honey Bees and Bumble Bees Don’t Fly at Night

Honey bees and bumble bees diurnal creatures (for the most part). They are adapted to flying during the day under the warm light of the sun. You will see neither of these in your bee gardens after dark looking for nectar and pollen.

With wings that are delicate yet strong, attached muscles move the small wings in a manner that allows the chubby honey bee to take flight. But, true flight depends on more than just good wings and muscle tone.

The body of the bee must be fueled with energy to sustain flight for long periods of time. This is why generally; honey bees do not fly in rain or very windy weather. The effort required is not worth the reward of needed resources.

Visual Navigation By Day, Perils of Darkness

Honey bees can travel several miles in search of food and water. It is rather amazing that they can leave the hive, find food sources and return to the hive entrance with such precision.

One aid in navigation is the eyes of the honey bee. Their large compound eyes are capable of detecting ultraviolet light, allowing them to discern intricate patterns invisible to the human eye. This is a valuable asset when seeking out nectar-rich flowers.

However, as dusk arrives the limitation of honey bee sight become apparent. Lacking the low-light sensors of some nocturnal insects (such as the Indian carpenter (Xylocopa sp., Apidae), honey bees struggle to discern shapes and landmarks in the absence of light.

This makes flying at night a perilous endeavor for honey bees. Rather than face the unknown night world and the dangers presented – honey bees stay home in the safety of the hive at night.

Info graphic chart of bees that fly at night or day - diurnal, nocturnal, crepuscular.

Crepuscular Bee Species

Exceptions to the rule. Of course, there are some bee species that are suited for work in low-light conditions. These crepuscular bees include Lasioglossum (Sphecodogastra) texana and the sweat bees.

Interestingly, two species of honey bees are included in this group. Both the giant Asian honey bee (Apis dorsata) and a type of African Honey bee (Apis mellifera adansonii) will forage through the night-given a little light from half-moons or full moons.

Hive Dynamics After Dark

Of course, these busy diurnal honey bees do not sit idle over the nighttime hours – though some bees might sleep in a quiet corner.

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Most of the work force busies themselves with task of cleaning and hive maintenance. Even in the low-light conditions of the hive, bees use their antennas and legs to attend to a multitude of small tasks.

Compared to daytime, the nighttime entrance to the hive may seem abandoned. This is not so. There will always be guard bees watching. Night is a time when some honey bee predators make an appearance.

If the guard detects an intruder, they investigate and release special bee pheromones to alert other workers to come to their aid.

Beehive Management and Nocturnal Tasks

In most cases, trying to inspect a beehive at night or late evening, is not a good idea. The beekeeper will not be able to see the things they need to see.

And, all of the bees will be at home in the hive instead of some of the work force being busy out in the field. Bees can fly at night – they usually do not choose to fly. However, they can still crawl and sting.

One task that is best done during the night is moving a beehive. Wait near the hive until it is almost dark. Close up the entrance with newspaper, screen or some material that does not inhibit airflow. Move the hive to a new location without the risk of losing foragers.

FAQs

Do honey bees fly at night?

While honey bees are capable of flying at night, they typically refrain from doing so. An exception, two species of honey bees will forage on night with some light from half moons or full moons.

What do honey bees do at night?

During nighttime hours, honey bees remain inside the hive. Worker bees engage in various tasks such as cleaning, hive maintenance, and tending to the needs of the queen and brood. Guard bees stand watch at the hive entrance, ready to repel any nocturnal predators that may pose a threat to the colony’s security.

Are there any exceptions to honey bee behavior at night?

In rare cases, honey bees may venture outside the hive at night if environmental conditions or specific circumstances necessitate it. Additionally, certain factors such as artificial lighting or disturbances near the hive may influence honey bee activity patterns at night.

Do nocturnal bees have different eyes than diurnal bee species?

Yes, noctournal bees have eyes that are specially adapted to respond to low light conditions. There ocelli (light sensors) are much larger and can gather more light in dim conditions – giving them better night vision.

Can beekeepers work with beehives at night?

While it is technically possible for beekeepers to work with beehives at night, it is generally not advisable. Limited visibility in the darkness can make hive inspections challenging, and disrupting the hive during nighttime hours may agitate the bees.

Final Thoughts

Bees possess remarkable abilities and amaze us with their adaptability and resilience. However, the exploits of honey bees are largely confined to the daylight hours. Though they can – honey bees do not fly at night as a general rule.

However, it’s worth noting exceptions – including the peculiar behavior exhibited by “zombie bees,” a phenomenon caused by parasitic infection. Thankfully, such occurrences are rare and do not significantly impact overall honey bee behavior.

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