Are Bees Attracted To Light – Bees & Beekeeping Information

bees in the field of flowers

When sitting on your front porch, especially on a warm summer day, you may notice that when the light goes on, the insects begin to swarm around the light. Are bees in the mix? Are bees attracted to light? Read on to find out more.

While we mainly see bees during the day, whether or not they are attracted to lights like other insects is an interesting question. Read on for an answer to the question: are bees attracted to light? As we'll see, they are, generally to a much larger light than moths could ever imagine, but sometimes to man-made sources.

Are Bees Attracted to Light?

bee in sunlight with flowers

So, are bees attracted to light? To frame the question, we must first establish the activities of bees. You've seen them on many sunny spring and summer days, buzzing about the flower tops doing their job, pollinating plants and spreading life. In general, bees are active during the day, and return to, and stay within their hives at night. Thus, barring outside interruptions or artificial sources, bees will generally be drawn to the sun and awake during the day, and retreat to the hive at night.

The traditional behavior of bees in the modern environment has been affected by man-made technology. While in the times prior to electricity the bee would rise and sleep with the rising and setting of the sun, artificial light and the spread of humanity has illuminated the darkness. Nighttime is no longer largely darkness beyond moonlight, and the occasional dwelling; it is urban and heavily populated, electricity blazing into the night sky.

The Positive Phototactic Reaction

bee in a spring flower

Bees are drawn to bright light, naturally the sun. In the modern world, bright lights also emanate from flame-driven lanterns into the realm of modern technology. The porch light mentioned above is a bright light that may attract and ultimately lead to the demise of a great many moths and small insects. This is due to the "positive phototactic" reaction of the moth, and bees share in this.

The "positive phototactic" reaction is a process called "Phototaxis." When bright lights are encountered, the reaction is activated, and the creature is drawn towards the light for further inspection. The distance of the sun makes it practically impossible to reach, and thus attention remains upon the earth and its vegetation, but artificial light can be reached, and thus the attempt is made. The attraction of bees to lights, like moths, can lead to a pile-up of dead bees on your front porch. The next time you sweep them up, look at their species and take a moment to consider.

Carpenter Bees And Deep Sleeping

carpenter bee

The carpenter bee is present in the lower 40 states of America, and are commonly seen buzzing about during the day. At night, they return to the holes they've bore into wood to sleep. At night, the bees are not attracted to light and remain dormant until the following morning, and the sunrise. This particular type of bee is notorious for its sheen black back and fuzzy yellow top, noticeable as they forage for food atop flowers.

European Hornets And Wasps

bee in a flower nectar with sun rays

One insect often mistaken for a bee that is in fact attracted to light, is the European hornet. The European hornet is particularly large, and is mostly yellow. However, it looks quite different than a carpenter bee.  Due to the yellow patterning, it is often mistaken for a bee. The size of the European hornet, however, is a giveaway, as they are 1-inch-long wasps, and have reddish or brown heads, and yellow stripes across their lower abdomen.

European hornets are active at night in the presence of light, and can be a threat due to their painful stings. Brown wasps with similar builds may also be drawn to artificial lights, and have similarly painful stings. If there are many present, consult with a pest control expert to assess the situation and if necessary locate the hive and control for it.

Parasitic Flies And Bee Control

bees

As noted above, bees are largely dormant at night, as the prime time for harvesting pollen is during the day when flowers are open and accessible. If you notice a large number of dead honeybees or bumblebees by your porch light, and there is not a hive entrance nearby they would normally be headed towards and thus distracted by the light, they may be infested by parasites.

Honeybees and bumblebees are susceptible to the Apocephalus borealis fly, which is a tiny, native, humpbacked fly that lays an egg directly inside the unsuspecting bee. When the egg within the bee hatches, the larva, also known as a maggot, eats the bee from the inside out. Upon being infected by a fly parasite, the bee abandons its hive during the night, and dies soon thereafter


There is a way to test if there are parasitic flies in your area and can provide an interesting basic experiment. Begin by collecting some of the dead bees and placing them in a plastic bag, sealing it. Should maggots or pupae emerge in the bag one or two days later, the bees in your area have a parasite problem, and if you are a beekeeper, this is something to pursue a solution to for the sake of your bees.

Africanized Honeybees And Daytime Swarming

bees in a blossom flower

The Africanized honeybee, the Apis mellifera, is a hybrid of European and African honeybees. Each year they swarm up to 15 times in order to establish new colonies, while the European honeybee does this just once annually. This particular bee is sensitive to artificial light to the point of death.

If you notice a number of bees that you identify as Africanized honeybees, it is likely there is a hive present. Should a light be in the sight path of one of these bees as it is returning to its hive, it will fly into the light repeatedly and may die beneath it. Their hives are found by looking for pencil-sized holes in wood, which would be in the vicinity of the light beneath which you are finding their bodies.

Africanized honeybees are especially protective of their hives and territorial. Given this, the bees can be more of a threat than others. If you find evidence of a hive in your home, or another wooden structure on your property like houses, sheds, or even trees, contact a professional exterminator. For the sake of safety, leave removal to someone with experience removing the insects.

Sweat Bees And Night Flowers

sweat bee

There are nocturnal varieties of bees as well that are known to feed at night, and may thus be attracted to artificial light that is present. Some species of bees known as sweat bees, or Halictidae, feed exclusively on night-blooming flowers at dusk or dawn, or on moonlit nights the flowers remain bloomed and open for feeding.

Sweat bees are uniquely colored and easy to identify. As opposed to the traditional yellow, sweat bees are mostly dark-colored. Some species are metallic green while others are purple. Are bees attracted to light? Sweat bees are, in fact, porch lights are known to be capable of encouraging sweat bees from their nests. The intensity of the artificial light may affect this, so you could try lowering the intensity of the lights to decrease attraction while figuring out where the hive is.

A study published in "Behavioral Ecology" led by scientist Almut Kelber noted that artificial light caused the Halictidae species of bees to leave their hives earlier than dawn, before the time they would normally arise to forage and feed. Mining bees, yellow-faced bees, carpenter bees, digger bees, honeybees, and bumblebees all exhibit some form of nocturnal behavior.


Conclusion

Many species of bees are normally active during the day and slumber in their hives or nests at night. This is due to their feeding upon flowers, which generally open themselves to the sun during the day. There are however night flowers, and to provide for their pollination, a number of species of bees that are also active in the darker hours. Whatever the type of bee, or even wasp, artificial light can have an impact on their behavior.

Artificial light has been shown to awaken some bees earlier than their normal cycle would prefer, while others are drawn into the light to the point of killing themselves. If there is a dead bee pile-up beneath your porch light, consider setting it to a timer to shut off a few hours before dawn long after you've gone to sleep, to allow the bees a normal slumber and to reduce their buildup on your porch.

Bees are drawn to the sun, and some are drawn to artificial light, particularly if they feed on night flowers. Bees are essential to our environment and ecology, but they can also pose a threat to human life. If you find yourself with an excess of dead bees beneath your lights, a hive is likely nearby. For your safety bring in a professional to determine where the hive is, and whether or not it presents a threat.

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