Honeybees stay in/on the outside of the hive at night, and bees do, in fact, sleep standing still with a relaxed posture for an average of 6 hours each night.
Night Time Bee Behavior
Honeybees perform many activities. At night they stay near the hive, and depending on their age, sleep up to 6 hours with various sleep cycles. We cover many other bee behaviors in this article including one called washboarding, you can see a clip of this behavior here:
Honey bees are under the insect genus apis mellifera, known commonly as the western honey bee. Worker bees spend most of the day gathering nectar and pollen to bring back to the colony for food and to make that sweet sweet honey for us to enjoy.
Honey bees are diurnal, this is true for most bees. This means they are mostly active during the day and at night the bee sleeps. All major honey bee activities occur during the daylight hours. They follow a circadian rhythm just like most mammals in this regard. A bumble bee is also diurnal just like the honey bee. The only nocturnal bees that we know of are Giant Indian Carpenter Bees.
There are several families of native bees. Apidae family includes bumble bees and our well-known non-native honey bees. There are different characteristics for each different bee species. For example, some of them nest in the ground, some of them build nests in wood. Some are known solitary bees, meaning they do not work with a colony. Some of them, are able to change from social to solitary throughout their life span.
Today, we're only talking about the western honey bee. These honey bees can perform basic tasks in and around the hive at night, but they generally don't venture away from the hive after dark.
Why Don't Honey Bees Leave the Hive at Night?
There are a few reasons why honey bees don't venture away from the hive after the sun sets. Many studies show experimental evidence that foraging behavior is guided by the circadian clock. But there are also several other reasons why honey bees don't leave the hive at night.
Bees are unable to see in the dark
A bee's vision is much like humans in the fact that they are unable to see in the dark. Because honey bees are unable to see in the dark, they will rarely be seen venturing out away from the hive. They wouldn't be able to see what they were doing if they did try to go out foraging flowers for pollen and nectar.
They can however crawl in the dark. Worker bees might perform limited duties inside the hive at night, but for the most part they are inactive.
Honey bees do not like to be cold
It's very important for honeybees to stay warm. Due to the drop in temperature after dark, even in warm seasons, they prefer to remain near the hive where it is nice and warm at night. Honey bee populations can reach up to 60,000 bees in a single hive. The amount of bees packed into a small hive produces heat to keep everyone, including the brood warm at a temperature of around 95 degrees.
Unable to find their way back to the hive
Because honey bees can't see in the dark, they are unable to find their way back to the hive if they were to venture out to forage. Honey bees are equipped with a host of navigational tools, most of them rely on sight. Making them unable to navigate at night.
Honeybees use the sun, the sky's pattern of polarized light, and vertical landmarks that stand out from the panorama to navigate their way back home, this would be almost impossible at night time. Even though honeybees consolidate navigation memory, they still do not travel at night.
Abnormal weather conditions/disease/pest infestations
It's important to note that it's possible for honey bees to be required to move to a new location at night due rare occurrences such as adverse weather conditions, predator attacks on the hive, or pest/disease issues within the hive. A new queen could cause disruptions to the behavior of the hive, resulting in strange behavior at night.
Do Honey Bees Sleep?
Honey bees need sleep to perform their functions properly during the day. Since they are nocturnal and unable to navigate at night, it's important that honey bees sleep at night during this unused period of "down" time.
It turns out their sleeping patterns are much like human sleep, with different sleep patterns throughout the night. Sleeping bees are important for a healthy hive. Honey bees need a good shelter and good conditions inside the hive to provide them with a safe place to get quality bee sleep.
It's important to note, that honeybees' circadian rhythm change due to their age and the job they are assigned. Forager bees are more active during the day and sleep at night, while nurse bees are active in spurts throughout the day and night. (Source)
What do honey bees do at night?
It's a big job being a honey bee, sleep deprivation can greatly reduce worker bee activity, so it's important bees are able to maintain their natural sleep pattern. Honey bees are very active during the day. They perform many tasks that vary based on the honey bee's age. The age of a honey bee can help determine what tasks they perform inside of the hive.
Young bees, worker bees, forager bees, all need their bee sleep in order to properly perform these important tasks throughout the day. Sleep deprived bees are not able to perform their tasks and can cause problems for the whole colony. It's safe to assume their sleep patterns change throughout their life just like humans, allowing younger bees to perform different tasks while adult bees are sleeping and vice versa.
All the bees in the colony probably contribute to the process of changing nectar into honey and in the air conditioning of the colony to maintain a suitable temperature and humidity. Other labor activities include gathering water and propolis, and defense of the colony.
Honeybee life cycles
Young honeybees under 3 days are mostly cell cleaners. They clean and polish the cells for the queen to lay in and for food storage. Young bees from 3 to 7 days old feed the older larvae. Worker bees aged 7 to 14 days old secrete royal jelly for feeding the queen, younger worker larvae, and queen larvae of any age, and they secrete wax for comb building, and make fresh honey. Finally, those 14 to 21 days old and older worker bees are primarily known as foraging bees. They work most of the day searching and collecting pollen, nectar and looking for new food sources.
It's important to note that all bees inside a colony are female. The only male bees are known as drones. Male drones only job is to mate with the queen. They perform no tasks inside the hive, they are unable to feed themselves and do not have a stinger. In the colder months, when the queen stops laying eggs, male drones are forced out of the hive. Male drones die after mating :(
Do honeybees have sleep cycles?
While you may think that honey bees are much different than humans, we actually have a few things in common. One of them being sleep patterns, honey bees do in fact sleep at night.
Usually for about 5-7 hours, worker bees remain still in one place. They do not perform work tasks like taking care of brood or food storage activities. We know this because there was a study was done on bees sleeping. They build an observation hive that allowed them to observe a sleeping bee.
In a study done back in 1980 by Walter Kaiser, worker bees were observed motionless for long periods of time, with antennae droop and body temperature drop, indicating that the bee is sleeping and they appeared to enter deep sleep.
It turns out that honey bees sleep with a well defined sleep pattern ranging from light sleep to deep sleep stage. But they don't sleep just like humans, all at once. They sleep in shorter periods, where they wake up to perform grooming periods. Think of these periods as naps, younger bees take about 30-40 naps, while older worker bees take 40-50 naps. Older bees sleep for longer periods of time during these "naps."
Younger bees sleep on the honey comb with their heads inside the comb. Older bees sleep on the hive walls are on the hive floor. Bees sleep standing up with their head down slightly and even their antennae droops. The wings rest on their upper body and have been observed entering different sleep stages. They require an average of 6 hours of deep sleep (in total broken up in these short naps) in order to fulfill their day full of hard work taking care of brood and foraging for food.
There are times when honeybees experience sleep deprivation due to weather or lack of food sources. Bees deprived of sleep become less efficient just like us humans. Lack of sleep can effect their waggle dance performance, which would affect their way of communication causing a drop in performance for the hive as a whole.
What are some common honey bee night time activities?
There are several night time activities that worker bees may be required to perform. These activities are probably done as a team, while some bees sleep, they probably take turns performing required tasks. Certain jobs are required depending on the weather, outside ambient temperatures, and life cycle of the colony as a whole.
Cold weather night time honey bee activities
One critical honeybee task that may be required by worker bees to perform at night is hive temperature maintenance during cold months. In order to maintain proper hive temperature at night in cold weather, bees huddle together and shiver or vibrate rapidly.
This causes the internal temperature of the honeybee to rise. When the entire colony joins together, they are able to generate enough heat to raise the hive to the proper temperature. It's very likely that some of the bees get much needed deep sleep while some assist in hive temperature maintenance.
As we just discussed, one of the few duties that worker bees may perform at night is hive temperature maintenance. Honey bees may "come out" at night, but it's usually only during the warm summer months and its only just on the outside of the hive.
This is because a honey bee hive or colony must stay between 34.5 and 35.5 degrees Celsius (approximately 94-96 degrees Fahrenheit) in order to ensure proper brood development inside cells. If the hive gets too hot or too cold, honey bee eggs, larvae, and pupae may not develop properly which could cause the hive to struggle.
Worker bee lifespan averages only 30 to 60 days, so a healthy colony must constantly be raising new bees in order to keep the hive population up during the warm summer months. Hive temperature maintenance is an extremely important task.
Warm weather night time honey bee activities
During hot summer months ambient temperatures outside can reach well over 100 degrees depending on the region. Due to the large amount of active bees inside a colony, coupled with low ventilation features within a hive, honeybees must actively manage the temperature to keep it in the sweet spot of 95 degrees.
There are two ways honey bees maintain temperature in warm months.
One common method is called bearding. This is when several bees will gather and stand outside the hive to reduce the amount of adult bees inside. This reduces the amount of hot energy being spent inside and allows the hive to cool.
It's common to see a large amount of honey bees piled up all over the outside of a honeybee hive during hot days and nights. If the temperature is to high at night, this activity is required. Its safe to assume that many of the bees rest on the outside of the hive at night and could be in different sleep states. Usually the younger bees stay inside the hive while the older bees gather outside of the hive.
Another way bees keep the hive cool is called fanning. This activity is usually performed in combination with bearding, but can be done as the bees stand inside the hive as well.
The bees stand next to each other and flap their wings rapidly, fanning cool air into the hive. Other bees fan their wings on the opposite side of the entrance to expel hot air. This greatly reduces the temperature of the hive as wells as the humidity inside.
There is one last activity bees have been known to do that usually occurs in warm weather. It involves honey bees gathering on the outside (or inside) of the hive gently moving back and forth. The reason for this behavior is somewhat of a mystery, some believe they are cleaning their legs off, others say that the bees are performing this activity to "polish" the surface of the material they are washboarding. We ultimately do not know what the purpose of this activity.
Summing it all up
Honey bees are alot like us humans. They sleep and stay near the hive at night following a natural circadian rhythm. They enjoy sunlight and use it to help them see and navigate. They are able to perform critical tasks at night if needed.
Thanks for reading, we love honeybees!