Do Bees Fly At Night?

Written On: by Theo The Beekeeper

Although bees are incredibly active during the day, you may have noticed that you rarely, if ever, see bees foraging and flying around after dark. You’ll never hear the familiar buzzing sound around the garden at night. This might lead you to ask what bees do at night. Do bees fly at night?

Most bee species cannot fly at night. This is because they rely on the UV sun rays for sight. Therefore, at night, they cannot see or navigate. Bees that are not in the nest by sundown will drop to the ground and stay there until light. However, some bee species have evolved to fly at night. 

Bees are fascinating creatures for so many reasons. Their ability and inability to fly at night add to their wonder. This article discusses why most bee species cannot fly at night, which species can fly at night, and why these bee species do fly at night. We will also discuss what the bees cannot fly in the dark do at night. Do bees sleep? For the answer to this question, keep reading. 

Can Bees Fly At Night? 

Bees cannot see as people. Some may argue that bees cannot see at all. Bees have five eyes, of which two are compound eyes. These compound eyes consist of thousands of individual lenses that allow the bees to see right around them. This is why bees never fly into each other. 

The other three eyes bees have are simple eyes (ocelli). The function of these simple eyes is to refract the sunlight and allow the bees to see their location and surroundings. Therefore, most bees cannot fly at night because there is a lack of sun. In addition, bees often use markers to determine the location of their nest. Without the sunlight, they cannot spot the markers and therefore cannot find their nests. 

If a bee cannot make it back to its nest before sundown, it will likely drop to the ground and spend the night on a flower or the grass. Then, when the light comes out again, the bee can navigate its way back to its nest. 

An interesting experiment conducted by students at Cambridge University shows that honey bees specifically cannot, and do not, fly at night. When the students switched off the laboratory lights, the bees suddenly dropped without even attempting to make a safe landing. 

This shows that some bees will not fly in the dark. So, what happens if these bees are disturbed at night? Evidence suggests they will crawl around. However, as they cannot navigate the darkness, the bees will likely crawl aimlessly. 

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However, in a fascinating turn of events, some bees are nocturnal (forage at night). In contrast, others are crepuscular (they can fly around at dusk or dawn in low light). These bees have evolved in the most interesting ways to enable them to fly around when most other bees cannot. 

Which Bees Can Fly At Night?

There are a few bee species known to have the ability to fly around at night. However, as far as the research indicates, only one bee species is genuinely nocturnal. That is the giant Indian Carpenter Bee. These bees can fly around at night, even if there is no moon or light to guide them. How is this possible?

According to scientists, nocturnal and crepuscular bees have more prominent ocelli (simple eyes) than diurnal bees, which are the bees that only fly during the day. This allows the nocturnal and crepuscular bees to navigate in the dark because they have much larger light receptors, meaning they can use the moonlight. 

In the case of the giant Indian Carpenter bee, it has enormous ocelli, measuring almost double that of a diurnal bee of the same physical size. Therefore, these nocturnal bees need only a fraction of the light required by other bees to navigate and fly around successfully. This feature allows them to fly in the dark, even without the moonlight. 

Although the giant Indian Carpenter bee is the only genuinely nocturnal bee we currently know of, several examples of crepuscular bees can fly at night, provided there is a full moon or at least a half-full moon. These bees are the giant Asian honey bee, the African honey bee, and the Central American Sweat bee. 

Although these bees don’t have the same giant ocelli as the giant Indian Carpenter bees, their ocelli are still bigger than those of diurnal bees. These bees can fly around at night but can also fly when little sunlight is present, such as during dusk and dawn. This means that the crepuscular bees can leave their nest earlier than other bees and forage for nectar and pollen for longer during the day. 

Usually, there is an apparent reason for animals adapting and evolving to their environment. So, now you might wonder why certain bee species have evolved to be nocturnal or crepuscular?

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Why Do Some Bees Fly At Night?

There are three main reasons why some bees have adapted to flying at night, but these reasons all have to do with one central theme – location. As you may have noticed, all the nocturnal and crepuscular bees are from tropical environments. This means that their reason for flying at night is likely to do with the weather. So here are three reasons why some bees fly at night. 

1. Climate And Weather

One reason why some bees have evolved to fly at night is because of the extremely high temperatures during the day. However, in tropical areas, such as Central America, Central Africa, Asia, and India, the nighttime temperatures are more moderate. 

This means that the bees can fly at night and find the best flower to forage without exposure to the boiling midday sun. However, bees need a minimum temperature of 53.6°F to sustain their activity levels. Therefore, bees in colder climates will not be able to fly around at night or when the temperature drops below the minimum required for survival. 

2. Food Availability

Another critical feature of tropical forests is that some flowers only bloom at night. This, too, has to do with the weather. As daytime temperatures are sweltering, the flowers only open up during the night, when the temperatures are more moderate. Therefore, the bees that fly at night can harvest the nectar and pollen from these flowers. 

This helps the bees collect enough nectar to feed the hive and produce honey and ensures that the night-blooming flowers are pollinated. In this case, nocturnal and crepuscular bees are essential for these flowers’ health and continued survival. 

3. Competition

Perhaps the biggest reason why some bees fly at night is that they have much less competition for nectar and pollen than they do during the day. There aren’t as many insects and animals foraging for flowers at night, so the bees can get access to the best flowers and ensure they get sufficient supplies of nectar and pollen for their hive. 

As you can see, the nocturnal and crepuscular bees don’t fly at night simply for the sake of it. Instead, there are significant ecological advantages to some bees being nocturnal and crepuscular. This system advantages not only the bees but also the environment. In addition, there is one less competitor for the resources during the daytime. 

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Now, you might have one last question about bees flying at night, and that is, what do the bees do that don’t fly at night?

What Do Diurnal Bees Do At Night?

Because most bees are diurnal, asking what they do at night is a logical question. The answer is quite apparent, yet it might surprise you. Diurnal bees sleep at night. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why bees and other invertebrates require sleep, but most do.

Bees are no exception and sleep at night. Bees have a specific sleeping position. Their antennae are still (not vibrating), and they curl their abdomens up towards their heads. In addition, their wings lay flat on their backs. Scientists have concluded that most bees sleep at night. 

Does this mean that nocturnal bees sleep during the day? Well, we’re not entirely sure. It is possible that the enlarged ocelli of nocturnal and crepuscular bees make them sensitive to bright, daytime light. Therefore, one can venture to say that nocturnal bees don’t forage during the day and use this time to sleep. 

However, it is also possible that nocturnal bees don’t require as much sleep and can forage during the day as well. More studies will be needed to answer this question. However, from the research done thus far, we can confidently tell you that diurnal bees sleep at night. 

Conclusion

Although most bees cannot fly at night because of their dependency on sunlight to see, some bees have evolved to become nocturnal or crepuscular. These bees have more prominent ocelli and can fly around at night and forage for flowers. Examples of nocturnal bees are giant Indian Carpenter bees. Examples of crepuscular bees are Central American Sweat bees, African Honey bees, and giant Asian honey bees.

 These bees fly at night to avoid the extreme heat of the day, forage from night-blooming flowers, or avoid the intense competition that comes with foraging in the day. Bees are wonderful creatures essential to our ecosystem, and we hope that you have found this article interesting and continue to learn about bees. 

References

https://invisibledust.com/journal/what-do-bees-do-when-theyre-not-at-work

https://journals.biologists.com/jeb/article/211/11/1737/9499/Seeing-in-the-dark-vision-and-visual-behaviour-in

https://www.buzzaboutbees.net/do-bees-fly-at-night.html

https://www.buzzaboutbees.net/do-bees-sleep.html

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2022/03/20/honey-and-bumble-bees-cant-fly-night-tiktok-has-shown-us-that/7042738001/

Author

Theo The Beekeeper

When I was a kid, my dad used to keep bees around the small farm we had, and I absolutely loved helping him. In the past few years, we’ve picked up the hobby again, and I’ve been doing a lot more research. This website is the accumulation of things I’ve learned along the way! You can learn more about my journey and the resources I’ve developed on my about page.

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