What Bees Do During a Total Solar Eclipse

During the total solar eclipse on April 8th, 2024, people from Texas to Maine will be shrouded in darkness for about 5 minutes, and partially in the dark for about 2.5–3 hours.

Source: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio 

All across the country, temperatures will drop (slightly.) Traffic will crawl to a halt. Superstitions will abound. And many, many foolish folks will be temporarily blinded. We know what you're really thinking though:

"But what about the BEES?"

Great question, fellow bee lover. After all, this particular total solar eclipse is happening right in the middle of spring: peak foraging season for our flying friends. What's going to happen to the billions of honeybees all over the U.S. who are just trying to clock a full day's work on April 8th?

Well, thankfully, scientists are at least 7 years ahead of us. Back in 2017, a group of scientists recorded bees using tiny microphones suspended from flowers to listen for any unusual buzz during a total solar eclipse.

According to Smithsonian Magazine:

"For a bee to call it quits in the middle of the day is pretty unusual, unless something like a storm passes through. As [University of Missouri ecologist Candace] Galen puts it, 'bumblebees and honeybees have to make hay while the sun shines.' ...As totality hit, the bees went totally silent in unison."

During the partial eclipse leading up to totality, bees basically went into slow motion. Noticing a subtle change in the environment, all the bees out foraging slowed down to try and figure out what's going on, while the rest stayed in the hive with the honey.

Is it nighttime? Is there a storm coming? Is there a predator swooping in? For about 5 minutes during a total solar eclipse, bees aren't sure. So, they slow down and play it safe.

Why do bees stop during a total eclipse?

Candace Galen, along with others, theorizes that honeybees are reacting to the eclipse the same way they react to incoming storms, which, as you might imagine, can make foraging far more dangerous. After all, a beehive has to deal with storms at least a few times a year, but almost never sees a total solar eclipse. 

According to Strathcona Beekeepers' Library (citing a study that's no longer available online), honey bees pretty much quit foraging entirely during an eclipse. It's as if they think the sun has set, so they call it a day and stay in the hive.

Source: Strathcona Beekeepers' Library

In the study, bees were beginning to take flight up until about 10:30am, when the totality started. For a few minutes, hardly a single bee flew by. But as the sun came back out, bees were quick to get back to work.

As for the slump in flights from 12:30–1:00: we're guessing it was just the bees taking a siesta. Who knows?

Unlike us silly humans, bees don't seem to bother with staring at the sun. (Even though they have five eyes.) They're aware that something unusual is going on, but don't freak out about it.

Maybe we could learn a thing or two about eclipses from the bees.

Learn more about bees and beekeeping.

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