We already know that bees gather their food, composed of pollens and nectar, and do the essential task of pollinating the flowers mainly during the day before going to their nest to rest at night. You may even have seen bees flying around during your morning walks, especially when you walk close to flower gardens and fruit trees. So, does this mean that bees only move in the morning, or are they also active at night?
Bees are generally diurnal or active during the day, collecting food for the hive while, at the same time, pollinating the flowers, but several bee species found in tropical regions have developed to become nocturnal or more active during the night . However, nighttime bees’ contribution to pollination is still a subject that needs further research.
If you are more curious about bees and their activity during the night, you may continue and read on.
Are bees active at night?
Like the saying that the early bird catches the worm, the early bees are also found to get the best flowers and the best meals during the early hours of the day . Since most of the flower’s nectars are more abundant during the daytime, it would be a curious case to know if bees still go out during the night.
Technically, the nighttime is the period from sunset until sunrise, or simply from dusk till dawn . Through years of research and studies, researchers have found out that some types of bees are still active during the night to perform tasks commonly done during the day, like collecting food and functioning even without the sun.
However, while it was initially thought that bees that are active at night have the advantage of collecting pollen and nectar from the flowers that bloom at night, sadly, that’s not always the case. Though there are still bee species that maximize the night light to forage their meal.
A 2020 published article revealed that nocturnal bees only feed from the leftover pollens from the diurnal or daytime bees and are not always having the best meal at night, even at the time of day when there is less competition from other insects and animals .
Still, nocturnal bees have some advantages during the night, even if they are not primarily due to the volume of pollen.
To learn more about bees, you should also read Why are bees attracted to me? and How far can bee see?
Can bees see in the dark?
Before we can learn more about bees’ activities during the night or in the dark, it is essential to first learn the difference between the terms “dark” and “night” in the context of bees to better understand their behavior and activities compared to the other types of bees.
When we say dark, we are commonly referring to the absence of light. At the same time, night means a specific time of the day when there is no sun, simply the moment after the sun sets and before the sun rises.
For instance, the inside of the beehive is usually dark, even during the daytime. However, bees can still freely move inside the hive even without actually seeing where they are going.
We will later learn more about the differences between bees, how they operate (or do not operate) during the nighttime, and how they behave after the sun goes down or before it goes up.
During the nighttime, many nocturnal bees can still find their way from their nests to their foraging site and back again using their vision which is highly dependent on the external light intensity like the moonlight, and not because they can see at night.
But some nocturnal bee species like the Central American sweet bee and the Indian carpenter bees, through various experiments, proved that they can learn visual landmarks as their guide when they move during the night .
Do bees fly at night?
Bees’ behaviors can change depending on the time of the day. Some bees are even documented to have experienced jet lag through a curious experiment found in the 1950s that aimed to understand if bees have a perception of time and an internal clock, like how humans have an internal clock, often referred to as the Circadian rhythm .
In the 1955 experiment, German biologist Max Renner carried a large wooden box containing 5,000 bees that he would accompany on a flight from Paris to New York to finally have conclusive proof from previous experiments that bees have an internal clock if they have a jet lag after the flight.
It is now well established that bees know when it is day or night, which signals to them when it’s time for their routine activities like foraging for food when the sun is up or time for resting when the sun goes down.
Generally, most bee species are active during the daytime and rest during the night. However, some families of bees use the night to their advantage to gather food and avoid predators and competitors. They are the less common nocturnal bees that are likely to be found in tropical countries than in colder areas.
There are bees that fly at night with the help of the moonlight to see. Then there are bees that have the memory to know the landmarks and directions from their hives to the foraging site. But there are also bees that have developed the ability to see even in the darkness of the night.
Also read: Can a dead bee sting you? and Do bees have blood?
Are bees nocturnal?
Nocturnals are animals that are more active at night and primarily asleep during the day , like bats, moths, and owls. While the majority of the bees are diurnal, there are also some types of bees that are nocturnal.
So, when we think about bees, we often generalize these flying insects to be the hardworking and day-loving honeybees that produce sweet-tasting honey. We don’t realize that there are thousands of species of bees in the world, and some of these bees are active at night.
While most bees are diurnal or more active during the daytime, studies revealed that some bee families are nocturnal , like the Xylocopa tranquebarica, a type of nocturnal carpenter bee, and also the giant Indian carpenter bee (Xylocopa Apidae).
According to findings, these nocturnal bees mostly come from tropical areas or places that have a warmer climate. Bees are not as active in colder places during the night since the cold temperature can kill them .
The nocturnal bees learned to be active during the night to avoid competition from their food, predation, and parasitism, which are more prevalent during the daytime and commonly affect the daytime bees.
Why are some bees more active during the night?
Here are various reasons why bees become more active during the night.
1. To avoid predators.
While many natural bee predators go to attack the hive even at night, some predators are more active during the day, like the bee-eating birds and other insects.
2. To avoid parasites.
Parasites that are more active during the day pose a danger to bees, so some bee species developed to be nocturnals to avoid these threats. A typical bee parasite is the Varroa mites .
3. To limit the competition from other insects and animals.
Most pollen-loving and nectar-sucking insects and animals, like butterflies, various types of bees, hummingbirds, and others, are more active during the day. So to have an advantage over their competitors, they forage at night when less competition is present and collect their food from other types of flowers.
4. Just in time for some flowers to bloom at night.
In tropical regions, some flowers have exceptional capabilities of blooming at nighttime, like the night-blooming jasmine and the ylang-ylang flower. So, the nocturnal bees use this opportunity to forage at night while there is less competition from their food source.
At the same time, while the nocturnal bees are getting their fair share of food, they also help pollinate the flowers. So, it is a win-win for the bees and the flowers.
We’d also recommend reading How far do honey bees travel?
Are bees active before sunrise or after sunset?
Now that we established that some bee families are active during nighttime, it is also worth looking if they are crepuscular or bees doing their work before sunrise or after sunset.
It was first assumed that the crepuscular bees shifted their flight activity from daytime to twilight to avoid predators and their competitors.
During the low-light hours before sunrise and after sunset, crepuscular bees have emerged as the best foragers of pollen, up to 15x more pollen per minute, since their nocturnal and diurnal competitors are not around .
What do most bees do at night?
Since most bees are day-dwellers and do their hard work during the day, they usually return to their nest by sundown to rest and sleep. It was first discovered in the 1980s by Walter Kaiser that when honeybees stopped moving, they were actually sleeping.
Bees were also the first invertebrates to be identified to rest and sleep, which is said to be between five and eight hours. However, since most bees operate during the daytime, these stinging insects choose to get more rest on longer nights .
Do all bees return to their nest or hive at night?
Bees, like almost every hardworking individual, also deserve to sleep and rest, but their sleeping patterns can vary depending on their species, age, or even hierarchy in the colony.
Some bees are known to take turns sleeping , with the younger bees having a lesser sleep than the older foraging bees that are hard at work collecting pollen and nectar to bring back to the hive.
Since bees are also documented to have a good sense of memory, another importance of sleeping for bees is it helps their memory since they need to go to the foraging sites and also return to their hives.
However, some bees outside the hive can choose to sleep on flowerheads or deep flowers. For the solitary bees, the females usually sleep in their nest, while the males sleep outside, like on the grass or in flowers.
Similar to how the lack of sleep in humans can cause changes in proper body functions, sleeping is also vital for the bees to “dance” properly. Dancing for honeybees is a form of communication that allows them to communicate and signal directions of food locations to other colony members.
Do bees attack at night?
Since most types of bees are active during the day and most likely resting during the night, it can sometimes be assumed that these stinging insects won’t attack during the night.
However, even during the night, if a bee’s hive or nest is threatened, it will not think otherwise to defend itself and sting you. During cold weather, bees may choose to stay in their nest even if there are threats outside their nest. But note that it is the cold that prevents them from attacking, and not the darkness.
So if you ever need to work with bees during the night, it is better to stick on the safe side and wear your protective gear. You may also want to use your bee smokers to keep them passive during your work.
To learn more about bees, you should also take a look at Can bees tell time? and Can you kill a bee with hairspray?
While most bees are active during the daytime to collect pollen and nectar from flowers while also pollinating them, some species of bees are nocturnal or active during the night and asleep during the day.
Though most nocturnal bees need some light sources to find their way to the foraging sites, most of them use their memory to locate landmarks that can help them navigate to and from their nest. However, there are also some bees that can see through the dark.
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