Many insects, such as moths, seem to be active during the dark hours but can bees fly at night?
While there are some bee species that are active during the night time, the majority of bees avoid leaving the hive in the dark.
In this article, we find out what bees can fly at night and why some bees are more active during the night than others.
Can Bees Fly At Night?
Yes, some bee species are able to fly during the night because they have evolved to navigate their environment in the dark.
These mostly-tropical bee species do not just see better in the dark but they can also fly just like they do in the daytime.
Bees that are more active during the dark hours typically gather pollen and nectar from flowers, just as daylight bee species would do.
The advantage of collecting nectar at night is that there is a lot less competition from other bees and insects that would claim the same nectar source.
How Can Some Bees Fly In The Dark?
There are a number of ways how some bee species have evolved to adapt to night flight.
While bees have five eyes and three ocelli that help to reflect light, the ocelli in bees active at night are much larger than the ocelli of daytime bees.
This means that night bees can pick up even the smallest amount of light, similar to a cat.
This being said, while some bees can handle different light levels, they still need a little bit of light, such as twilight or moonlight, in order to fly safely.
Can Bees Fly In Complete Darkness?
The majority of the few bee species that are active during the night don’t fly in full darkness.
However, scientists are aware of at least one bee species that is able to fly without any light at all and this is the Indian Carpenter Bee.
Nocturnal bee species are only active during the dark. They can fly and collect food even without sunlight.
Scientists found that nocturnal bees are only tropical species. They also discovered tropical wasp species that are nocturnal.
Both nocturnal wasps and bees can navigate through the dark forest to get to their food source and nest.
Researchers know four distinctive bee families where nocturnal and crepuscular behavior is common:
However, there are only a couple of bee species that are fully nocturnal which means they don’t need any light at all to fly. These are the Indian Carpenter bee and Megalopta atra.
Crepuscular Bee Species
Crepuscular bee species are only active during dusk and dawn. This allows them to use minimal light for foraging and collecting nectar.
For example, Megalopta genalis bees live in the tropical rainforest with thick canopy. They come out just before dawn and after dusk to gather their pollen.
There are other species that are known to be active over the day but they can also forage at night with sufficient moonlight.
Here are some bee species that are known to be crepuscular:
- Peponapis sp.
- Caupolicana yarrow
- Xylocopa tabaniformis
- Ptiloglossa jonesi
- Ptiloglossa guinea
- Ptiloglossa arizonensis
- Martinapis luteicornis
- Caupolicana ocellata
- Xenoglossa fulva
- Lasioglossum (Sphecodogastra) galpinsiae
- Megalopta genalis
Do Bees Have Night Vision?
No, most bees don’t have night vision and they struggle to see in the dark. This is the main reason why bees don’t fly at night.
However, there are also nocturnal bees that have much larger ocelli that are responsible for light reflection. This allows these night-active bees to see better in the moonlight or dim light.
Do Bees Shut Down At Night?
The majority of bee species, including honey bees and bumblebees, reduce their activities to work around the hive, such as processing pollen, cleaning the hive and keeping it warm.
Most bees also sleep at night to restore their energy reserves for a new day.
This being said, some bees are also active at night which means that they collect nectar in the dark and rest over the day.
Why Do Some Bees Fly At Night?
While most commonly known species of bees aren’t active during the dark hours, there are some reasons why a bee species may want to fly at night.
Avoid Food Competition
One of the biggest reasons why some tropical bee species have evolved to fly at night is because there is less competition for food.
Bees always compete for the best nectar and pollen source over the day.
Visiting a food source at night means that the bee doesn’t have to worry about competition from other beads, beetles, flies, butterflies and other insects.
This being said, there are still some competitors around at this dark hour, including moths and bats.
Another reason why bees may be active at night is that they want to avoid predators and parasites they would usually encounter over the day.
This ensures that the bee stays relatively safe while collecting its nectar and pollen.
However, there are also nocturnal predators that favor insects, including bees, so even nocturnal bees aren’t fully safe from wild hunters.
In some extreme regions of the world, weather conditions change with every minute of the day.
For example, in dry environments, bees may want to fly in the evening or morning hours when it’s much cooler.
This allows the animals to retain more water and avoid the burning heat from the sun.
Access To Food Sources
In tropical climates, such as rainforests, certain plant species only open their flowers during the night.
Plus, these plants often produce a significantly larger amount of nectar. This means that bees only have access to this abundance of nectar in the dark.
Nocturnal and crepuscular bees can tap into these pollen and nectar reserves at dimmer light levels in the morning or evening.
Although the majority of common bee species do not fly at night, there are a few tropical bees that are active at night.