Nocturnality, or flying at night, is uncommon in bees. Honeybees must have light to navigate and fly. And because these bees lack the anatomical adaptations that would enable them to fly in at night, they return to the hive at night. But two species of honeybees (genus Apis, Apidae) may fly at night when strong light is present. They are crepuscular or day active.
A few bee species do fly at night, especially tropical bees and wasps. They are nocturnal, foraging for pollen and nectar at night. Most bees only fly during the day and can’t fly at night. Bees don’t fly at night because they can’t navigate or avoid obstacles during the night.
Technically, bees can fly at night, but, their vision isn’t optimal for flying in darkness. When it’s dark outside, bees prefer to stay inside the beehive. Due to their limited night vision, bees are more prone to the attacks of nocturnal predators.
Nocturnal Bees vs. Diurnal Bees
Nocturnal bees fly at night. These types of bees are active during the night. Their eyesight is about 30 times more sensitive than the eyes of diurnal (day active) bees and the setting sun signals the start of their worknight.
Most bees are diurnal. Diurnal bees are active during the day. Once the light is too dim, diurnal bees return to the beehive. Nocturnal bees have larger eyes than diurnal bees. Although diurnal bees don’t generally fly at night, you might still see them fly under a full moon.
In Panama, for example, there are strictly nocturnal bees (sweat bees). They can’t just fly at night, but they have amazing nocturnal visual abilities. While flying in the dark, bees can recognize visual landmarks along their foraging grounds and their nest. And it’s their powerful night vision that enables these bees to find their way home after a foraging trip.
Nocturnal and crepuscular bees are:
- Indian Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa sp., Apidae) – This bee species is known to be obligately nocturnal and can forage even during the darkest moonless nights.
- Central American sweat bee Megalopta genalis (Halictidae) – Technically, this bee is crepuscular, not nocturnal. They thrive under the thick cover of the rainforest canopy, active before dawn and after dusk.
Can bees fly in low light?
Crepuscular bees can fly in low light. These bees are more active during the twilight hours of the day. Therefore, they are most active during dusk or dawn. The practical reason for flying in lower light conditions is to avoid the scorching heat of the tropical sun.
Crepuscular bees can continue to forage under the moonlit sky. They rely on vision during foraging.
Do bees fly at night?
Bees, like the Indian Carpenter Bee and the Central American sweat bee, can fly at night. Although some tropical bee species can fly at night, not all bee species do. If a bee can’t return to the beehive before it gets dark, it might spend the night resting on a flower. After sunrise, the light will help the bee navigate back to the beehive. The sunlight will also increase the temperature and it will enable the bee to fly back to the beehive.
Why do bees fly at night?
Bees fly at night to forage for food. They’re after night-blooming flowers. The bees that fly at night have evolved the ability to see in the dark. Bees gather pollen and nectar during the night, in the dark. Some bees evolved to be able to fly in the dark, to collect pollen on their legs and nectar with their straw-like mouth from species of flowers that are open when it’s dark out.
What are the reasons for bees flying at night?
Two main reasons have been hypothesized. The first reason is about reduced competition. Fewer bees and other insects means nocturnal bees don’t have to compete with most insects for food.
Nocturnal bees are typically found in forested habitats. These nocturnal bees evolved to fly at night to feed on flowers that produce nectar during the day and at night.
Bees aren’t the only ones exploiting nocturnal flower resources. For example, moths and bats compete with nocturnal bees for the same food sources. Still, the competition during the night is much less than during the day.
Another probable reason bees fly at night is to avoid predation and parasitism. Parasites and predators constantly attack day-active or diurnal bees. And to fly at night provided bees with a convenient escape route.
Why are some bees nocturnal?
Bees that fly during the night don’t have to compete with other bees, butterflies, and various other insects during the daytime.
Can bees see in the dark?
The bees that fly at night can see in the dark. Their eyes have evolved to allow them to see in the dark. Bees have five eyes. Two of their eyes are large compound eyes, composed of thousands of tiny lenses. In addition to the two compound eyes, bees also have three are ocelli, responsible for reflecting light. It’s the ocelli that allow some bee species to fly in the dark. Their ocelli are significantly larger than bees that only fly during the day.
Can bees fly in the dark?
Bees can’t fly in the dark because they rely on sunlight to navigate. Without sunlight, bees are more prone to get lost or get disorientated. During the day, the higher temperatures also help bees fly. Bees rely on the sun’s heat to maintain muscle power. If the temperature is below 53 Fahrenheit (or 12 Celsius) bees can’t fly.
Can bees fly in complete darkness?
Bees, even those that fly at night, require some moonlight. Bees can also fly during twilight. They also rely on visual landmarks for foraging and homing.
Which bees are active at night?
Bees aren’t active at night, but many wasp species fly and hunt at night. Honeybees, for example, crawl at night. This could happen if the bees are disturbed when it’s dark outside. And due to the lack of light, they can’t navigate. That’s the reason they might crawl up on your shoes or socks if you disturb them at night.
What time of night do bees stop flying?
Bees stop flying at night once there isn’t sufficient light to navigate. Once the sun sets, bees stop flying, unless they are nocturnal bees like the Indian Carpenter Bee and the Central American sweat bee. Nocturnal bees can use the moonlight to navigate the same way diurnal (daytime) bees use sunlight to navigate.
Are bees less active at night?
Diurnal bees are less active at night. They are less active at night because their vision is best in the daylight. But, they will fly toward a light source when disturbed at night.
Can bees find their way home in the dark?
Most bees can’t find their way home in complete darkness. Therefore, the fading daylight signals to bees return to their nests or hives. Unfortunately, it’s increasingly more difficult for bees to navigate back to the hive in the fading daylight.
In addition to the sun’s location, bees use landmarks for navigating to their food sources and back to the beehive. In addition, bees are believed to possess mental maps of their habitat, helping them return home after a long day.
Most bees will return to the hive before sunset. However, if a bee is caught outside the hive after nightfall, it will spend the night in a flower or some other protected area.
Once there isn’t enough light to navigate back to the nest or hive, a bee might get lost on its way home. So, the best approach is to stay put while it’s dark and fly home after sunrise.
Do yellow jacket bees fly at night?
Yellowjackets don’t fly at night. Once the temperature is below 50 Fahrenheit (10 Celsius), yellow jackets stop flying regardless of daylight. When the temperature drops below 50 degrees, yellowjackets look for protected places to stay warm. In low temperatures, yellowjackets are not out flying around foraging for food. In such cold weather, these wasps need to conserve energy.
Some people reported that bees attacked outdoor light fixtures near hives. Therefore, it’s a bad idea to point a flashlight at a beehive during the night. Therefore, if you want to remove yellowjackets from your property, it’s much safer to do so at night. During the night, yellowjackets are tired and less active.
So, if you have a yellowjacket nest in your yard or outside your house, it’s better to explore out during the nighttime. Treat the nest at night when it’s already dark outside. Don’t use a flashlight because it could aggravate them hornets, and it could be a very painful or even dangerous experience for you.
Remember that yellowjackets are drawn to light. They will fly toward the light if you disturb them. For this reason, don’t ever direct a powerful flashlight at the hornet’s nest. Always wear protective clothing to prevent injury due to yellowjacket stings.
Do bees attack at night?
Most bees, including honeybees, are diurnal, which means they are active during daylight hours and rest at night. Honeybees mainly spend the daytime collecting nectar from flowers and water for the colony.
Because bees can’t see at night, they normally return to the hive well before sunset.
Even though honeybees stay inside the hive at night, they would not hesitate to defend their colony if they felt threatened at night or any hour of the day.
You should never disturb a beehive without protective gear and expert help.
Final thoughts on bees flying at night
Most bees are diurnal, and they don’t fly at night. Crepuscular bees can fly in dim (dusk or dawn) conditions, but they aren’t nighttime fliers either. However, there is one nocturnal bee, the Indian Carpenter Bee. This bee can and does fly at night.
The Indian Carpenter bee’s navigation abilities are optimal for nighttime flying. Unlike other bees, it doesn’t have to return to the hive before sundown.
But most bees are diurnal, and they will not fly at night. So instead, they’ll do all their flying and foraging in the daylight, even though some diurnal bees can fly in the dark with the aid of sufficient moonlight.
Nocturnal bees have chosen to gather their food at night to avoid predators, lessen competition, and conserve water. As a result, these tiny creatures have proven how important they are by being dubbed as a keystone species of our planet. This means that without them, major ecological crises will be felt worldwide.
There is much more scientific study required to understand the nighttime flying behaviors of bees.