Nocturnality, or flying in the dark, is uncommon in bees. Honeybees must have light to navigate and fly. And because these bees lack the anatomical adaptations that enable them to fly in the dark, they return to the hive at night. But two species of honeybees (genus Apis, Apidae) can fly in the dark when strong light is present. They are crepuscular or day active.
Most bees don’t fly in the dark. But, a few bee species fly in the dark, especially tropical bees and wasps. They are nocturnal, foraging for pollen and nectar in the dark. Most bees only fly during the day and can’t fly in the dark. Bees don’t fly in the dark because they can’t navigate or avoid obstacles without daylight.
Technically, bees can fly in the dark, 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 attacks from nocturnal predators.
Nocturnal Bees vs. Diurnal Bees
Nocturnal bees fly in the dark. These types of bees are active during when it’s dark. 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 work night.
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 in the dark, you might still see them fly under a full moon.
For example, Panama has strictly nocturnal bees (sweat bees). They can’t just fly in the dark but 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 in the dark?
Bees, like the Indian Carpenter Bee and the Central American sweat bee, can fly in the dark. 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 in the dark?
Bees fly in the dark to forage for food. They’re after night-blooming flowers. The bees that fly in the dark 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 in the dark
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 in the dark to feed on flowers that produce nectar during the day and in the dark.
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 in the dark is to avoid predation and parasitism. Parasites and predators constantly attack day-active or diurnal bees. And fly in the dark provided bees with a convenient escape route.
Why are some bees nocturnal?
Bees that fly at night don’t have to compete with other bees, butterflies, and other insects during the daytime.
Can bees see in the dark?
The bees that fly in the dark 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 have three are ocelli, responsible for reflecting light. The ocelli allow some bee species to fly in the dark. Their ocelli are significantly larger than bees which 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 in the dark, require some moonlight. Bees can also fly during twilight. They also rely on visual landmarks for foraging and homing.
Which bees are active in the dark?
Bees aren’t active in the dark, but many wasp species fly and hunt in the dark. 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 why they might crawl up on your shoes or socks if you disturb them in the dark.
What time of night do bees stop flying?
Bees stop flying in the dark 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 moonlight to navigate the same way diurnal (daytime) bees use sunlight.
Are bees less active in the dark?
Diurnal bees are less active in the dark. They are less active at night because their vision is best in the daylight. But, they will fly toward a light source when disturbed in the dark.
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 bees to 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 to navigate 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 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 in the dark?
Yellowjackets don’t fly in the dark. 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 bad 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. When it’s dark, 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 at night. Treat the nest in the dark when it’s already dark outside. Don’t use a flashlight because it could aggravate the hornets and 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 in the dark?
Most bees, including honeybees, are diurnal, which means they are active during daylight hours and rest when it’s dark outside. Honeybees spend the day collecting nectar from flowers and water for the colony.
Because bees can’t see in the dark, they normally return to the hive well before sunset.
Even though honeybees stay inside the hive in the dark, they would not hesitate to defend their colony if they felt threatened in the dark or any hour of the day.
You should never disturb a beehive without protective gear and expert help.
Final thoughts on bees flying in the dark
Most bees are diurnal, and they don’t fly in the dark. Crepuscular bees can fly in dim (dusk or dawn) conditions but 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 will not fly in the dark. So instead, they’ll do all their flying and foraging in the daylight, even though some diurnal bees can fly in the dark with sufficient moonlight.
Nocturnal bees have gathered their food in the dark 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.
Much more scientific study is required to understand the nighttime flying behaviors of bees.