Bees are often seen hovering around flowers in the spring and summer months, but at night and during the winter, they are nowhere to be found. So, where do they go and what do they do when they are not collecting nectar? These are among the many questions that people often ask about bees.
What Do Bees Do When Not Collecting Nectar?
In this article, I am going to look at the honeybee and what the roles of the different types of bees are within and out of the hive, as well as whether these insects sleep.
There are those that assume all bees gather pollen and nectar, and they then wonder what they are doing at other times. For example, do bees sleep? Yes, bees do sleep, and they do rest. And, contrary to popular belief, not all bees gather nectar for the production of honey. In fact, it is only the honeybee that does this.
In a colony of honeybees, it is only the worker bees that leave the hive, and they do so to collect pollen and nectar. These bees will visit more than a hundred flowers on each foraging trip and will gather up to eighty percent of their weight in nectar and pollen before heading back to the hive. As you can imagine, this is tiring work.
Within the hive are other worker bees known as house bees that are waiting for the return of the forager bees. Their job is to take the collected nectar and covert it to honey. They do this by chewing the nectar passed to them by the forager bees. The house bees chew the nectar and then pass it to another bee. This continues until the nectar has been converted to honey.
However, the work is not done yet. The house bees need to remove more water from the honey, and they do this by flapping their wings to increase airflow and help with evaporation. Honeybees work extremely hard and need to rest to get their strength back before they get back to work. And like humans and other animals, they do this by sleeping.
How Can You Tell if a Bee is Sleeping?
Bees have similar sleeping patterns to humans in that their body becomes very relaxed. And like us, they go through a number of sleep phases. And forager bees have a day/night sleep pattern in the same way that we do.
So how can you tell if a bee is sleeping? Well, according to Jürgen Tautz, who has written about bee sleeping in his book The Buzz About Bees (check out the title here at Amazon) forager bees will enter a deep sleep in the hive at night. He goes on to describe a sleeping bee as having ‘a posture reflecting a lack of muscle tonus’ with legs folded beneath their body and their antennae hanging down.
Honeybees do not only sleep in the hive, however. Many people have seen honeybees taking a nap in flowers where they remain still for long periods of time. They will usually fly away if disturbed or once they have had enough rest.
When Do Bees Sleep?
While forager bees tend to have a day/night schedule similar to humans, other bees within the hive have different sleeping patters. The forager bees are the older bees, and they tend to be active from sunrise to sunset, heading out of the hive to collect nectar and pollen before returning and passing their goods to the waiting house bees. They will then head back out for another foraging trip and repeat this process throughout the day. By the time night falls, they are ready to sleep. Forager bees move through light, medium, and deep sleep and will then move from deep sleep to consciousness.
Younger bees in the hive also sleep very deeply but they tend to move between light, medium, and deep sleep before waking. They will also wake for a few hours and then fall back asleep again during the day and night.
Where Do Bees Sleep in a Beehive?
Within the hive, bees have different places to sleep. The forager bees tend to sleep on the hive walls or towards the edges of the frames while the younger bees are inclined to sleep with their head inside honeycomb cells. Some bees will lay on the floor of the hive to sleep.
Do Bees Return to the Hive at Night?
Forager honeybees leave the hive to gather pollen and nectar. They do this during the spring and summer months when the temperatures are warmer. How long they are out and about during the day really depends on how warm it is because once the temperature drops below 55F bees will start to go dormant.
In the mid-summer, you are likely to see bees out and about from early morning and they may still be flying about late into the evening. However, during the spring and fall, they will leave the hive later in the day and will return to it earlier in the evening. Honeybees typically return to their hive at the end of the day about an hour before sunset. This is because once the light starts to dim, they find it difficult to see very well.
Honeybees work awfully hard, whether they stay in the hive or leave it to forage for nectar, so they need to rest to get their strength back up. Like humans, bees go through various stages of sleep, from light to medium to deep.
Forager bees tend to work through the day and sleep at night while younger bees that stay in the hive will have cycles of sleeping and napping throughout a twenty-four-hour period.