Honeybees can, and do, fly at night provided there is light. If one shines a bright light upon a colony, the bees, both young and old, will wake up and fly out to investigate the disturbance. Bees, like all insects, instinctively fly into bright lights at night. However, in a normal, typical dark night, honeybees struggle to navigate and instinctively desire to instead “hang out” at the hive.
Most of us know that honeybees return to the hive at nightfall. The usual nighttime bee activities include keeping the hive warm, cleaning up debris, processing the day’s nectar, pollen, and/or syrup collection, and of course, sleeping. Yes, honeybees do sleep at night! The foragers, tired out from their long day seeking nectar and pollen, tend to sleep for longer spells, whereas the younger bees sleep for shorter periods. This enables the youngest bees to be active for portions of the night, when they take care of the necessary housekeeping activities that keep the hive healthy and productive. On the other hand, the foraging bees need to work all day, so they take much of the nighttime to sleep.
Sometimes a foraging bee will get caught up in all of its exciting daytime work and lose track of time. The poor bee may look up and face the harsh reality that it is now too late to make it home before nightfall. When there is not enough light to safely fly, the bee will have to land someplace comfortable and try to endure the night alone. In the summer months, this is usually not a problem. In late autumn, however, a situation like this can be fatal.
Believe it or not, certain species of bees, primarily in tropical areas, do the majority of their flying at night! These special kinds of bees have evolved to take advantage of species of flowers that bloom only at night. They are night pollinators. For us beekeepers, however, it is a good thing that our honeybees don’t like to fly at night. Otherwise, it would be nearly impossible to find a good time to move the bees or to find any downtime for us humans!