Many animals are nocturnal, including bats, owls, and many insects. So, it isn’t hard to believe that bees would be nocturnal, especially given that they are active during a hot, extreme part of the year – but can bees see at night?
However, most bees are diurnal – active during the day, sleeping at night. For that reason, most bees don’t have excellent night vision. Some bees have become crepuscular and nocturnal through eye adaptations that allow them to better see at night.
Because honeybees are not a part of either of these groups, experienced beekeepers don’t recommend interacting with your bees during the night.
Read on to discover which bees can see at night, why they adapted to night conditions, and why you shouldn’t interact with your bees at night.
Diurnal bees have a similar daily pattern as we do. They are active during the sunlight and are restful during the nighttime. While some run on a 24-hour day like we do, some do not. These bees have not developed adaptations for seeing at night, so they cannot see very well. For that reason, it’s very uncommon to see diurnal bees out at night.
What do Diurnal Bees do At Night?
So, if some of these bees don’t sleep at night and cannot see, what do they do? Well, that depends on where they lie in the caste system.
Foraging bees are active and busy throughout daylight. Because they use light as a navigation system, they try to gather as much pollen and nectar as possible during the day. During the night, they refuel on food and rest. Foraging bees have the most similar day-to-day pattern to humans.
Not all bees in the colony run by this same pattern, though.
A queen bee’s job is to lay eggs… that’s it. So, during the springtime, a queen bee will do this day and night, no matter what the light is outside. Because queens don’t usually leave the hive, they don’t need to go on a light/dark sleeping pattern.
In addition, other young worker bees also don’t run on a 24-hour clock. Because they mostly stay in the hive, their day looks more like: rest, work, rest, work, etc.
Thus, diurnal bees can’t see at night very well.
Crepuscular bees have adapted to see during dusk and dawn, in addition to daylight. Although they can’t see in total darkness, they can see in either:
- Periods right before the sun rises or right after the sun sets
- Periods when the moon is half-full or larger.
Examples of crepuscular bees are the Central American Sweat Bee, the Giant Asian Honeybee, and the African honeybee. These bees have adapted better eyesight to avoid predation and competition. While they are the most active during periods of light darkness, they still forage during the daytime.
Nocturnal bees, although rare, do exist. As the name suggests, these bees are restful during the day and active during the night. Most are tropical, where temperatures don’t prohibit them from flying, and lots of flowers bloom during nighttime.
One example of a nocturnal bee is the Indian Carpenter Bee. While not obligatory nocturnal, these bees live in Southeast Asia and forage on tropical flowers.
How Nocturnal Bees See at Night
Seeing at night requires very specialized eyes. Nocturnal bees have adapted to allow more light in to navigate effectively in the dark. They have developed larger eyes, larger photoreceptors, and larger facet lenses to do this.
- Larger eyes: Nocturnal bees ocelli, or simple eyes, are much larger compared to body size than diurnal bees. They are half a millimeter larger! While that doesn’t seem like a lot, it’s significant given bee size.
- Larger photoreceptors: the photoreceptor is the part of the eye that detects light. Larger-sized photoreceptors allow for more light to be responded to.
- Larger facet lenses: Bee’s compound eyes process what they see and turn them into images. By growing the size, the lense can accept more light wavelengths and see in dimmer settings.
Why Some Bees are Nocturnal
Why would some bees go nocturnal if most are diurnal? Mainly, nocturnal bees have adapted to night conditions to benefit from protection from predators, less competition, less water use, and increased access to special flowers.
Protection from Predation
Although not many predators go after bees, the small few predominantly do so during the day. In addition, bee parasites and thieves primarily attack during the day. To escape from this, nocturnal bees have adapted to night conditions.
There are a lot of pollinators in the world. Especially with the increased number of beekeepers, sometimes nectar can be scarce. However, as flowers produce nectar throughout the day, nocturnal bees get greater access to more flowers during the night.
The only competition that bees face at night is moths and bats, whereas, during the day, they compete against butterflies, birds, small mammals, and other insects.
Lack of Water
Since bees produce honey throughout summer, heat can become a problem. Especially in drier areas, bees can become easily dehydrated.
To avoid this, nocturnal bees have evolved to have better eyesight to forage during cooler conditions.
As most nocturnal bees are tropical, this adaptation makes sense.
In tropical areas, some flowers adapted to hot, humid conditions by blooming at night instead. The same adaptation also occurred in the desert, where temperatures regularly get above 110F.
These bees gained almost complete access to these unique flowers by becoming nocturnal.
Will Bees Attack at Night?
Although the debate is still out about whether bees are more aggressive during the night, most experts agree that beekeepers should avoid hive inspections during this time.
Most believe that because honeybees are diurnal and are trying to rest at night, they are more likely to sting during the night. In addition, they are much more vulnerable at this time as they can’t see well.
To see a bee flying at night is rare. That’s because most bees are diurnal, on a similar active/rest cycle as humans. However, some bees adapted to night conditions for various benefits, including protection from predation and decreased competition.
Other bees adapted to dim light conditions, seeing during dusk, dawn, and full moon conditions.
Whether bees see at night or not, experienced beekeepers don’t recommend interacting with your bees during nighttime. Not only are they sleeping, but they are more vulnerable and prone to stinging.