The nickname “busy bee” is no joke – bees are very productive workers, pollinating up to 1,000 flowers in one day. With all that work, the larger questions remain: where do bees go at night? What do they do? Do they sleep?
Although scientists didn’t study this topic until the 1980s, the consensus is that it usually depends on the bee, but more often than not bees will go to sleep at night.
Let’s look at different types of bees and their behaviors at night to see how it varies.
Honeybees’ behavior is on a similar day/night pattern as humans; only they are much more dedicated workers. Because honeybees have a structured caste system, what they do at night depends on who they are and what their job is.
Forager honeybees are the females responsible for foraging flowers for nectar, pollen, and resin. Once worker bees reach their “midlife,” they begin performing this task.
Because they are busy all day flying around and gathering pollen, these bees are seen to sleep more diurnally: active during the day and sleeping during the night.
These bees have been found to sleep for long periods of time within the hive at night.
However, if there is a sudden drop in temperature or they don’t have enough energy to make it back to the hive, you may be lucky enough to find them asleep on a flower outside. They will stay on the flower, sleeping, until daytime.
Young worker bees, however, do not often go out of the hive. Much of their work is inside: cleaning, nursing, building, and guarding.
Because their jobs aren’t as physically demanding and dependent on the sun, they have a much different sleep pattern than their older companions. These bees have been found to sleep during shorter periods of time and more periodically throughout the 24-hour day period.
Male bees, or “drones,” differ from both of the above patterns. Because male drones don’t serve any purpose beyond mating, they aren’t as welcome in the hive as the queen, the young, and the workers.
In the spring, they will leave the hive during the day in an attempt to find young virgin queens to mate and then come back to the hive at night. Since spring often brings plenty of flowers, and thus honey, the worker bees will allow the males to stay.
However, once fall comes, they get kicked out of the hive for good. These drones can be found trying to fend for themselves outside during both day and night but eventually will die due to the cold temperatures and their lack of ability to make honey.
Although there isn’t much research on what a queen bee does at night, it is believed that her sleeping pattern changes through the seasons.
Because a queen bee’s only job is to lay eggs, it is thought that she does this day and night in the spring, when the colony begins to thrive again.
Other than this, not much is known about a queen bee’s behavior during nighttime.
Solitary bees have much different behavior from social bees. Unlike honeybees and other social bees, they do not have a hive, have a queen, and do not produce honey.
Instead, these bees construct their single nests using different materials. Some of these nests can be found inside wood, inside twigs, or underground.
Throughout the day, these bees collect nectar and a little bit of pollen for their young. Similar to forager bees, because the task can be pretty daunting, they can be found sleeping in the opening of their nest at night – ready to guard their young but also ready for a little siesta.
Why do Bees not Forage at Night?
There are several different reasons for most bees to rely on a daily sleeping schedule like us. Similar to humans and many other animals, the reasons mainly include environmental factors.
When the temperature drops at night, it takes a lot more power to keep a bee working. Because the bee’s honey stomach is their only fuel source, they cannot push very hard without refueling. This temperature change creates an environment where the bee would need to rely on more honey to forage like usual, so it’s not worth the energy for the bee. Because of this, most bees have probably evolved to stop working at night.
In addition, bees have likely stopped foraging at night because of the lack of food available during this time. Since most flowers close their petals at night and bloom only during the day, they don’t have access to as many food options as they usually do.
A more critical aspect is navigation. Most bees use polarized light to navigate during the day. The light allows them to go far distances and return to the hive safely. Since they lack night vision, a bee that doesn’t return to the hive before dusk will be at risk of getting lost and possibly dying due to lack of energy.
As stated before, bees also need to take a break. The work of a forager bee requires a lot of energy. Because of this, bees need to rest between workdays to re-energize themselves for another hard day of work.
Exceptions to the Rule
Especially with over 20,000 known bee species, it’s no surprise that a small few are active at night. These bees have evolved to forage at night to curb the competition and solely rely on night-blooming flowers.
Nocturnal bees are active at night and sleep during the day. These bees, mainly tropical, have evolved to be able to see in the darkness. The adaptation of night vision has allowed them to have free range over night-blooming flowers.
Although they can’t see much, they can see enough to forage from flower to flower and safely make it back to the hive.
Some bees fall somewhere in between diurnal and nocturnal. These bees, known as crepuscular bees, are usually active during the day. However, when it’s still bright enough at night, these bees will choose to continue to forage.
One time when it’s still light enough outside is during dusk and dawn. At these times, after the sun has just set or just before it’s risen, the bees use the dim light to navigate. They may choose to do this because of the limited competition and the moderate temperatures.
Some bees use the light of the moon to navigate. When the moon is half-full or larger, these bees will continue to forage at night. However, if the moon is less than half-full, these bees will resort to sleeping in the hive again since they do not have night vision.
Signs of a Sleeping Bee
When you’re working in your garden in the early morning, you may find a sleeping bee in one of your flowers. There are some sure signs to tell if the bee is sleeping vs. dead.
First and foremost, the bee’s antennae will always be down and motionless if asleep. Its wings and abdomen will be in a similar position, motionless and relaxed. Usually, you will find the bee tucked inside a flower for the night, and when you try to wake them, it will usually take a minute or two for them to wake.
The answer to the question “where do bees go at night” is short: they sleep. They usually go to their hives or homes because they need to preserve energy and stay out of harsh environmental conditions.
What they do in the hive depends on their caste system. Forager bees will sleep throughout the night. Young bees will sleep periodically throughout the day and night. Queen bees don’t have much research on them, but it’s thought that they stay awake during spring to lay eggs continuously. Solitary bees go into their independent nests to guard and sleep.
There are some exceptions to this rule. There are a small few that are nocturnal or crepuscular. These bees either have night vision that allows them to navigate at night or only forage at night if the moon is light enough.
These bees have also escaped the environmental conditions by living solely in the tropics and relying on night-blooming flowers.
The way to spot if a bee is sleeping is its motionless, downward-laying body. It usually takes a minute or two to wake a sleeping bee, but once they are up, they start moving about like usual.