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Can Bees See in the Dark? How Bees Navigate at Night

On a beautiful spring day, it’s a common sight to see bees flying as they pollinate all the plants in the area. 

But as the sun sets, you’ll start to see less of them around. But some will still fly around.

Is this normal? Can bees see in the dark, or are they blind? How can bees see at night?  

These are some of the questions we’ll be answering in this article. Read on to learn more!

Can Bees See in the Dark?

Yes, bees can see in the dark using their eyes and three unique light-collecting structures on their head called ocelli (also called “simple eyes”). Bee’s have three ocelli on their heads, two dorsal ocelli, and one central ocellus. [1]

These are responsible for reflecting light and are used to help the bee position itself correctly relative to the sun. This makes it easier for them to navigate during the day. 

The three ocelli can even help in the dark, as nocturnal bees have enlarged ocelli that can detect even the slightest change in light. 

bee hornet head

Particular species such as honeybees can see ultraviolet (UV) light, making it easier to distinguish between dark and light. They can see when only a few photons are available, allowing them to navigate in darkness without any other light source.

But can they navigate without any light at all? 

Let’s find out whether bees can find their way through the beehive without any source of light available.

How Do Bees See Inside a Dark Hive?

In a dark beehive, bees 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.

They use their sensory system to feel and touch the walls within the beehive, allowing them to move around without bumping into things.

Bees, like many other insects, also rely on pheromones for communication. The queen produces pheromones that are spread throughout the hive by the workers. This lets a bee know what hive is their home.

Studies show that bees can also use static electricity to navigate – even in the absence of light or in a cave without any physical openings. 

Bees can sense the difference between the positive and negative charges. They can then use this information as a map, using those charges to navigate through the dark beehive.

swarming bees

When bees can’t use static electricity to navigate through a dark beehive, they often use the walls of the hive itself. They can also find their way when one bee passes by another as it can induce an electric field that can send information about direction and distance. This process allows them to sense movement within their surroundings — even when there is no available light source.

Can Honey Bees See at Night?

Honeybees can navigate through the darkness without any sources of light available by other forms of communication. If they have just a little light though, they can easily navigate through the night with their ocelli.

Bees can see UV light and blue-green colors, while they can’t see red lights or colors very well, if not at all.

Can Bumblebees See at Night?

Bumblebees can also see in the dark, either by collecting light or navigating via their senses. Like honeybees, bumblebees can also detect small amounts of UV lights that can help them navigate through a dark beehive. These bees also have ocelli to see the light.

bumble bee on a purple flower

Are Bees Blind at Night?

No, bees are not blind at night. There are species of bees that are only active during nighttime.

Several people are under the belief that bees can’t see in the dark because they rely heavily on light to navigate. Since bees have ocelli, they can detect light even when there’s almost no light at all.

Meanwhile, other bee species can also do the same by collecting UV lights or sensing electric fields that can help them traverse through the darkness. These are effective means to help them navigate even when it’s dark.

Bees’ Compound Eyes

A bee’s eye has thousands of facets that bees can use for detecting motion and patterns. 

There are also a significant number of lenses within each facet of the compound eyes, which can help them see patterns from a distance, allowing bees to distinguish colors and detect movement in their surroundings.

A bee has 5 eyes: 2 compound eyes and 3 “simple-eyes”. The simple eyes are used for light-detecting, navigation and help them face correctly relative to gravity.

bee eyes close up view

Each compound eye can also include light-sensing structures called ommatidia or “ommatidium,” which can be used by the bees to detect different lights at night. 

It can be challenging for bees to navigate through dark beehives without light sources, but they can still use their compound eyes to see where they are going.

How Do Bees Navigate at Night?

Bees can use certain parts of their body to see at night. They can also distinguish various colors and patterns through ocelli—which helps them detect small amounts of light even if bees see in the dark can be challenging for them.

However, a few studies show that a few species of nocturnal bees had evolved to develop the ability to see in the dark. 

The study only suggests that the bees’ ability to navigate was based on their memory instead of their sense of sight.

How Do Bees Find Their Way Home in the Dark?

Bee’s are, despite their small brains, incredible at navigating. While they might be out foraging in the middle of the night, they’ll always be able to find their way home. [2]

And they’ll usually fly in a straight line home as well.

They do this by collecting all of the information about where they’ve flown, how fast they were flying, and referencing it to their starting point.

Honey bee macro, isolated on black background. Bee concept.

Are Bees Nocturnal?

Most bee species lie dormant inside the hive at night. However, there are a few nocturnal bee species that forage food in the cover of darkness. 

Since there is less competition at this time, they’ll have better chances to gather food. Also, flying during the day tends to dehydrate their bodies much faster.

The only bee that can break out of this pattern is the queen bee. A queen bee can stay awake throughout the day to lay eggs for the hive.

Also read: Do bees come out at night?

honey bees and queen bee

Nocturnal Bee Species

There are two types of nocturnal bee species [3]

These are:

  • The Megaloptera Atra found in the Panamanian Highlands
  • The Indian Carpenter Bee

The aforementioned bee species can fly out and find their way even without any light source, especially at night.

How Active Are Bees at Night?

Bees are less active at night and can be found in the hive at this time of day, sleeping. This sleeping pattern allows them to regenerate their energy to proceed with their daily activities during the day. 

However, as stated, there are a few species that are active at night. 

honey bee

But on a typical night, most bees will return to the hive soon after the sunset. That’s because there’s barely any light, which makes it more difficult to navigate.

Do Bees Attack at Night?

Yes, if bees are attacked, they will defend themselves with counter-attacks, whether it’s day or night. 

Although most bees lie dormant at night, there’s still a chance that they might attack when provoked. Poor weather conditions can also cause them to become more defensive and aggressive. 

Starving bees caused by a shortage of nectar or pollen can also result in bee attacks.

Conclusion

Bees are fascinating creatures. We know they can see in the dark, even though most bee species lie dormant inside the hive when it’s dark. 

These tiny insects have a lot to teach us about how we work and live every day, especially with our sleep cycle.

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.