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Are Bees Attracted to Light & Why? (Scientific Explanation)

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The buzzing of bees is a sound we know very well. And, as many people will tell you, bees are attracted to light. 

But what does that mean? Why do they like it so much? 

Is there any way for us to use this knowledge to our advantage to keep them from swarming around all the time and making such a racket? Let’s find out! 

In this article we’ll discuss bee behavior and why they’re drawn to sources of light.

Are Bees Attracted to Light?

Yes, bees have a natural attraction to light due to a natural phenomenon called “phototaxis”. This is the ability for organisms to move directionally in response to light. Phototaxis triggers a phototactic response, which is either negative or positive. Bees have a positive phototactic response, which explains their attraction to light. [1]

While the bee is in flight, it keeps its flight line approximately parallel to the rays of light from a single source.

Whether this is the sun or light from our house, bees will fly towards it, purely due to their instincts.

Other insects and animals are affected by this as well.

bee flying alone at night in a flower

Are Bees Attracted to Bug Zappers?

No, bees are, interestingly enough, not attracted to bug zappers like most bugs.

A bug zapper emits an electric charge that doesn’t harm larger animals but can kill insects. While this electrical shock means certain death for the bugs, larger creatures aren’t affected in the least.

However, although bees do not get killed by the electric charge, they are still harmed by it. Fortunately, bees are not attracted to this UV light like other insects, making them safe from this insect killer.

Bees are, for the most part, asleep at night, which also hinders the effectiveness of bug zappers versus bees. A bug zapper won’t have much impact during the day, since the sun will provide a larger source of light.

If a honey bee happens to run into a bug zapper, it will become injured though.

bug zapper

Are Bees Attracted to Blue Light?

Some evidence suggests bees may be sensitive to shorter wavelengths such as ultraviolet (UV) and blue wavelengths. [2]

Due to how bees see, blue and violet colors appear stronger to bees, while red colors appear weaker.

This is also the reason why blue flowers attract more bees – the bees can simply see them better than red flowers.

A lot of flowers also have what’s called “UV guidelines”. These aren’t noticeable for humans, but bees can see them very easily, as they can see ultraviolet light.

light bulb with insects flying around

Why Are Bees Attracted to Light?

Bees are attracted to light due to a natural mechanism called phototaxis. Phototaxis is the ability of organisms to move directionally to a light source. 

This is not only something found in bees but also many other animals and plants (ever noticed how sunflowers are facing the sun?).

Related: What attracts bees the most?

Phototaxis – The Attraction to Light

Phototaxis is the medical term for attraction to light. 

The phototactic response found in bees is very unique and is a part of their very complex visual navigational abilities. [3]

In other words, bees use light sources differently than other animals. They use it to find their way back from foraging trips, and they use it to differentiate between different food sources.

Phototaxis is used to help bees find their way back to the colony after foraging. A bee will fly off in twists and turns but will use the sun to navigate back in a straight line.

Will Bees Fly Towards Light at Night?

Yes, bees will fly towards the light at night. During the day, light sources will have little effect, since the sun is out and outshining most light sources. At night, this is a different story.

While most bees sleep at night, there are nocturnal bee species that roam around in the dark. These night bees are also attracted to light.

bee at night flying alone

While the moon is the only light source at night, and since it’s not as strong of a light source as the sun, other light sources will shine more brightly, relatively speaking.

Hence, bees will more easily pick up on these light sources.

Disturbed Before Deep Sleep

Bees in a deep sleep, or diapause, can be easily disturbed. If bees in a deep sleep awaken before the cold winter is over, they may die due to their metabolism not supporting life. It happens when there is a disruption in the typical bee behavior pattern.

The reason for this disruption could be temperature, lack of food, or any other factor. Bees are almost hibernating during deep sleep.

Bees in diapause are susceptible to external factors. They are not able to physically withstand the disturbance that causes them to awaken before winter is over. Also, bees can only live for a few days after they awaken from diapause, which is detrimental to the colony. Even the slightest disturbance can have a significant impact on the bee population.

Phorid-Fly Infection (Zombie Fly or Apocephalus Borealis)

The zombie fly (also known as a phorid-fly or Apocephalus Borealis) is a parasite that will infect bees. Once infected, bees turn into “zombies”. That’s where the fly got its name.

You can find a map of zombie bees here.

The parasite will lead to a change in bee behavior. Infected bees will show “zombie-like behavior” like leaving their hives at night.

If you see bees attracted to light at night, there’s a chance that it has been infected by one of these flies.

This little fly is native to most of North America.

zombie fly

Apart from changing bees’ natural behavior, the bee will eventually also die from the parasite. The fly will plant eggs in the body of the bee, which will eventually hatch into maggots, killing off the bee.

Conclusion

Bees are attracted to light sources due to the natural response known as phototaxis.

Bees have evolved to use light for navigation, and they have a different spectrum of colors that they can see better than we can.

If the light is blue it will attract bees the most. Also ultraviolet light and green light seem to attract bees. Colors on the other side of the light spectrum, red and orange, are less effective at attracting bees, as they can’t see these colors as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Bees Attracted to Light at Night?

Yes, bees are attracted to light and light sources at night. Since they’re attracted to light, even small sources of light will seem attractive during nighttime, where the only other light source will be the moon.

Bees use light for navigation. At night, they use the moon and stars as a compass. In the morning, they rely on landmark memories for direction.

Bees may use light to orient themselves during outdoor flights from their hive to food sources or their rest site at night.

Do Bug Zappers Work on Bees?

Yes and no. Bees won’t be harmed by bug zappers, but they are attracted to the light they emit. Bug zappers work on the principles of electrocution. Insects are usually attracted to ultraviolet light, the same goes for bees. 

When a bug gets too close, they’re killed by electricity discharges, but not bees.

Most bees also sleep at night, which is when the bug zapper is usually most effective. During the day, bees won’t notice the bug zappers, as there’s more light coming from the sun than the zapper. That’s why they’re inefficient towards bees.

Do Bees Like Light Bulbs?

Yes, bees are attracted to light bulbs, since bees are attracted to light. They have an innate positive phototactic response to light, which means they move towards sources of light.

Bees are also attracted to light bulbs because the shape and color of the bulb are similar to flowers – they might think that light bulbs contain nectar. They are unfortunately disappointed once they figure out that there’s no nectar.

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.

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