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Bee Home By Sundown

Honeybees don’t fly at night – why not?

If we could flip a light switch and turn off the sun in the middle of the day, honeybees might drop like tiny anvils from the sky into the sudden darkness.

Weird, right? 

But we can make that realistic analogy after seeing a video that went viral earlier this year. Posted on social media, the video captured dozens of honeybees plummeting to the bottom of a laboratory container immediately after the lights in the room were turned off. The video went viral and has been viewed tens of millions of times on social media ranging from TikTok and Facebook to Twitter and Reddit.

@gashi

I did not know this

♬ Avni/Goodlife – GASHI

So, that got us thinking … why don’t honeybees fly at night? After all, they have FIVE eyes. They have two bigger eyes – one on each side of their heads called compound eyes. And get this: each one of those big eyes has thousands of tiny lenses – about 5,000 per eye for the worker bees (females) and about 10,000 lenses per eye for the drone bees (males).

That’s a LOT of lenses! You might think that having thousands of lenses would allow the honeybee to see at night. But nope.

And on top of those, each honeybee has three smaller eyes, called ocelli. The ocelli detect light and movement, which helps with navigation and orientation. 

The bigger eyes, the compound eyes, also detect light, as well as color, movement and patterns that allow them to piece together what’s in front of them.

Here’s how we envision honeybees at dusk. (And yes, we think they have tiny binoculars to view the setting sun!)

OK, so they have lots of eyes, why can’t they see at night?

That’s what we asked! And here’s what we found:

Honeybees are diurnal, meaning they only fly and pass along pollen during the day. 

“Bees cannot technically see, they can use the sun’s rays (polarized light) to guide them,” Quinn S. McFrederick, associate professor of entomology at the University of California Riverside, said in a recent  USA Today article.

Honeybees can crawl at night, however. And they can make their way around the inside of their hives too. 

“Honeybees find their way without any other source of light available by using all of their senses and particular parts of their bodies to navigate inside the hive,” according to misfitanimals.com. “They use their sensory system to feel and touch the walls within the beehive, allowing them to move around without bumping into things. If they have just a little light, though, they can navigate through the night with their ocelli.”

Interestingly, there are nocturnal bees that zip around at night. They’re called Lasioglossum (Sphecodogastra) Texana, or the sweat bee, and they can fly during full moons and half-moons, says buzzaboutbees.net. Additionally, “a specific type of forager bee called Halictidae, which lives in the highlands of Panama, has adapted to be able to fly even without the aid of moonlight. These bees gather nectar and pollen from specific plants that are only active during night time as there is less competition from other insects,” says buzzaboutbees.net.

Nevertheless, most bees are daytime flyers, including our beloved honeybees. That way they can avoid obstacles that are harder to see and detect at night. All of which means that if you enjoy hanging out with honeybees, you’re going to have to do it before the sun goes down. Sorry, vampires, you’re out of luck! 

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