It is common to see bees flitting about between flowers and shrubs during the daytime hours. During the spring and summer months, these insects are busy collecting nectar and pollen to bring back to the hive. Meanwhile, in the fall and winter months, they sock away in their hives bracing for cold weather and preparing for a busy warm season. However, when bees are prominent and doing nature’s work, this process happens mostly during daylight hours. This begs the question: where do bees go at night?
A Bee’s Purpose
Small and seemingly insignificant, bees are among the most important creatures on the planet. They provide an invaluable service to the global ecosystem as they pollinate plants of all types. Because of bees, agricultural crops thrive and produce food for human consumption. Foods available for consumption thanks to bees include watermelons, apples, cucumbers, broccoli, blueberries and more.
The process of pollination supports the food system such as it is in the modern world. This is aside from the fact that bees provide one sweet addition to nature’s consumptive offerings: honey. Honey is created by nectar regurgitated by bees and passed between the insects before they place it in the hive’s honeycombs to save as a food source for winter. Honey crops for human consumption are worth millions, underscoring the value of this food to the human population.
Bees are also responsible for much of the floral beauty of the planet. Without bees, flowers would not receive the pollination to bloom beautifully and repeatedly. Without bees, the global ecosystem would be in turmoil. This is why preserving the habitats of bees and learning to understand them better is so imperative.
Bee Sleep History
The first person to discover that bees sleep was Walter Kaiser. He was the person to observe a bee in position with head bowed to the ground. The bees had also allowed their antennae to swoop down and the wings that were normally rigid and prepared for flight were resting against the body of the bee. Kaiser surmised that the bees were actually in a state of rest when in this pose.
The sleeping bee discovery begets a move by science to determine reasons for bee sleep and the ways these insects benefitted. Information about bees and sleep has not only informed where do bees go at night but also how it impacts their productivity and efficiency.
How Long Do Bees Sleep?
Bees require anywhere from five to eight hours of sleep a day. Much like humans, they get this sleep mainly at night because the dark prohibits them from going on nectar and pollen-collecting trips. Bees still maintain this sleep schedule during the winter months. A common misconception is that bees sleep more during the winter because they stay in the hive to keep warm.
However, they remain just as focused on keeping the queen safe as they do during the more active months for the hive. This means clustering in a winter hive to keep the queen warm to preserve her abilities to continue producing in the warmer spring months. Bees do this by spending their waking hours flapping their wings and purposefully shivering to generate even more warmth.
Where Do Bees Go At Night?
Where do bees go at night? This a great questinon consider many of us only see bees during the day. The places bees sleep at night depends on the role they play within the hive. For instance, the older bees responsible for foraging sleep towards the edge of the nest. They are often the last to come into the hive at night and the first to leave again the next day. Comparatively, the younger, worker bees are those that sleep inside the hives and close to the center of the hive.
Depending on the bee species, however, some bees may opt to sleep in closed flowers if they are too far from home and unable to get back to the hive before dark. This not only provides extra food (and thus extra energy) but the closed petals of the flower offer protection and cover in the dark. Lost bees may stay in place in the petals of one closed flower for several days until they regroup or remember how to get home.
Bees sleep during the day and at night. Foragers also take naps during the day on flowers. However, they sleep lightly and as soon as it disturbs the resting spot; they take flight. Because of these naps, forager bees have a less rigid schedule for sleeping versus the workers who don’t have an opportunity for catnaps during the day.
Why Is Sleep Important For Bees?
Sleep is important for bees as it forces them to have a heightened level of awareness for communication. When bees tire, they cannot be as accurate in the body motions used to communicate with one another. They can’t guide one another to reliable food sources. This can have a negative impact on the entire hive. This is essential because the bee's body motions show the direction of food and communicate this information to other bees in the hive.
Thus, other foragers may waste time looking for a food source in the wrong direction due to inaccurate cues from sleepy bees. Or, they may not receive this information at all from the bees sent out to find such spots.
Bees that haven’t slept well—or at all—also won’t remember how to get to the best spots themselves. This means that not only are they unable to communicate this information to the hive but also they won’t be able to nourish themselves that day. Hives depend on the abilities of the foragers to find the best spots. So, it is essential that these gatherers get the proper rest, so they keep their memories of where they had the best success.
The issue with sleep is not just one of finding the goods—it is also about getting home. Bees that have not had sufficient rest may also have a hard time finding the hive once again after a long day out foraging.
Since they often stay out all day, they may have a hard time recognizing landmarks to get back to the hive if they haven’t gotten enough sleep. This is when bees get confused about behaviors considered inherent to insects. One strength of bees is their ability to find refuge and safety in the hive—and thus, in their numbers. Bees caught out in the world without this protection may become prey for predators. So, where do bees go at night? Back to the safety of thousands of their fellow hive bees to ensure that they can all protect the queen and enjoy the benefits of protecting the hive and thus, one another.
Sleeping Patterns Vary
For bees and sleep, there is more than just the question “where do bees go at night?” There is also a question of the differences between sleep patterns between beehives and bee species. Even hives of the same bee type have variances in sleep schedules. Some hives sleep longer than others and science cannot explain the reason for this difference, outside of the potential for genetic differences between the bees within a particular hive.
Sleeping Bee Biology
Bees are very similar to humans in their sleep habits, including that their memory converts from short to long-term as they sleep. This is another reason that sleep is so important for these insects. Bees are also similar to humans when sleeping in that the body temperatures of these insects drop during sleep, just as it does in people. The deeper a bee’s slumber, the brighter it must be to wake it up.
There are times during the year when the queen does not sleep at all. During the height of spring, the queen lays eggs day and night.
Do Bees Attack At Night?
Bees will attack at night as they stand ready to defend the hive always. However, they don't distribute as evenly throughout the hive as they cluster together when the temperature drops to stay warm.
Bees And Night Vision
Where bees go at night is imperative because they have poor vision in the dark. Thus, those bees planning to return to the hive do so at sunset when they can still see and find their way home. Otherwise, it is far more prudent to shelter in place until the next day. However, if the bees and the hive are in a place where there is plenty of light at night (even of the artificial variety), then bees may still try to find their way home even after the sun has set. But the bee does not continue to forage once the sun has set.
Bees ultimately sleep to regenerate their energy and rest their bodies before once again embarking on the daily journey of gathering nectar and pollen for the hive. The question “where do bees go at night” varies depending on the bee type, but most go back to their hives. This allows them to bring back the stores from the day and regroup with the other members of the hive before going back again with the sunrise.