Bee Night Vision: Can Bees See in the Dark?

Can Bees See At Night?

Bees have excellent vision and heavily rely on their eyesight for essential tasks like navigating to and from flowering plants, communicating inside the hive, and avoiding predators or obstacles during flight. Their eyes have specialized adaptations that optimize visual perception and information processing. However, like humans, bees experience daily cycles of light and darkness. This raises an important question – with their visual prowess during daytime, can various bee species see when the sun goes down? Understanding bee vision capabilities at night provides insight into their sensory world and behavior.

This article explores bee night vision and activity, covering:

  • Structural adaptations of bee eyes
  • Neural processing of visual information
  • Limited but present nocturnal vision
  • Hive lighting effects on night vision
  • Variability between different bee species
  • Impact of moonlight, starlight, and artificial light
  • Reasons bees avoid nighttime activity
  • Navigation difficulties for active night bees
  • Exceptions of some night-flying bee species

While most bees have some modest night vision, their activities are heavily curtailed after dark to avoid the greater risks and navigation challenges flying at night would pose. Their visual adaptations and preferences make bees primarily daytime creatures. Yet some species have evolved advanced night vision revealing the versatility of bee eyesight.

bees landing on a beehive

Structural Adaptations of Bee Eyes

Bees have two main types of light-sensing eyes:

  • Compound eyes contain thousands of individual visual receptors called ommatidia, providing detailed fast-moving image perception. They cover most of the head.
  • Simple eyes called ocelli detect overall light levels, useful for flight control and orientation. There are typically three on the top of the head.

Both eye types possess structural optimizations for daylight vision such as:

  • Larger eye surface area and more ommatidia increase resolution.
  • Lenses filtering and focusing light for sharper images.
  • Pigments for color detection including ultraviolet wavelengths.
  • Adaptive light thresholds enhancing contrast.
  • Directional tuning of ommatidia for motion detection.

But these specializations suit daytime rather than nighttime seeing.

Neural Processing of Visual Information

In addition to eye structures, bees have complex optic lobes in their brains for processing images. This grants abilities like:

  • Discriminating patterns, landmarks, and colors.
  • Interpreting polarized light information.
  • Enhanced contrast and edge detection.
  • Motion sensing and lightning-quick reaction times.
  • Integrating visual cues into navigation and foraging.

But again, the neural networks are geared for daylight-adapted seeing. Images at night strain the system

a bee harvesting nectar from a flower

Limited but Present Night Vision

While far worse than daytime vision, bees can see glimpses at night:

  • The ocelli adjust to expand light gathering and perception under low light.
  • Optic lobes increase visual sampling efforts under dim conditions to extract details.
  • Sensitivity allows detecting vague shapes, contrasts, and movement at close distances.
  • However, visual acuity and resolution remain extremely poor in darkness.

So bees are not completely blind at night, but their vision is profoundly impaired and inadequate for most tasks.

Hive Lighting Effects on Night Vision

Inside well-lit beehives at night, housing conditions support modest visual function:

  • Beeswax and honeycomb structures somewhat diffuse ambient hive light.
  • Small openings prevent exterior light from fully penetrating into the hive interior.
  • At best, dim illumination allows minimal navigation inside to rest.
  • But little to no specialized nighttime activity occurs in the light-limited hive, aside from some cleaning and feeding.

While structural bee vision adapts somewhat to low light conditions, clear seeing requires daylight.

Variations Between Bee Species

Different bee species demonstrate variable night vision capabilities:

  • Honeybees have essentially none. Their compound eyes are useless at night.
  • Bumblebees also lack night vision but can utilize ocelli signals for limited orientation in the nest.
  • Stingless bees have demonstrated some ability to learn maze navigation at night under low light conditions in lab experiments.
  • Carpenter bees seem able to forage to limited degrees at dawn and dusk transitional periods.

But most bees share poor night vision as their days are naturally timed around daylight.

bees landing on a beehive

Impacts of Moonlight and Starlight

Subtle night light sources offer minimal improvements:

  • Full moons provide low ambient illumination that marginally supplements bee night vision. Activities show slight increases.
  • Clear starry nights may assist somewhat through added cumulative small light sources.
  • But neither moonglow or starlight generate enough useful photons for bee vision to function well. Pitch black nights leave bees largely blind.

While these light sources make rural locations less than absolutely dark, bees remain night-blind in even these conditions.

Effects of Artificial Night Lighting

Human-generated night lighting often disorients bees at night when light pollution filters into hives:

  • Strong artificial lights nearby may allow increased nighttime navigation due to brightness exceeding moon/starlight levels. But this is unlikely in most areas.
  • Night lighting frequently confuses bees and causes erratic night activity that is still ultimately unproductive due to poor vision.
  • Disoriented bees may fly out and become chilled and lost overnight, diminishing hive health.
  • Artificial light near hives should be minimized to avoid stressing colony function.

Rather than assist bees via illumination, lighting often proves detrimental by directing them astray.

a lot of bees landing on a beehive

Why Most Bees Avoid Night Activity

Several key factors make bees predisposed to avoid flight at night:

  • Flowers are not generating nectar rewards at night, making foraging fruitless.
  • Poor vision makes navigation extremely challenging in low light conditions.
  • Predators like bats that locate by echolocation rather than sight gain an advantage at night.
  • Lower temperatures at night elicit an energy conservation response by chilling bees.
  • Daytime conditioned behavior focuses activity cycles around light.

With no payoff and heightened risks, natural selection favored bees that remain hive-bound after dusk.

Difficulty Navigating at Night

Low light degrades bee navigation essential for productive activity:

  • Poor vision makes flowers, landmarks, and obstacles largely invisible. Easy disorientation.
  • No sunlight for proper orientation using polarized skylight patterns.
  • Impaired communication via visual waggle dances or pheromones.
  • Inability to detect dangers and respond with escape behaviors.
  • Greater susceptibility to predator attacks without visual defenses.
  • Getting lost and exhausted from endless circling without clear navigation capability.

All key functions bees perform during the day fail in the absence of light. They are simply not equipped for night duty.

beekeeper working on beehive

Exceptions of Some Night-Active Bees

A small subset of tropical bee species possesses rare night vision adaptations:

  • Megalopta genus bees forage at night aided by enlarged ocelli for greater light capture. They track dawn/dusk phases.
  • Xylocopa calens is active in moonlight using specialized night vision neurons to locate flowers.
  • Centris bees pollinate night-blooming cactus flowers in dim conditions. They may also have enlarged ocelli.

But these remain highly uncommon exceptions, as night activity offers little advantage for most bees in most regions. Enhanced night vision requires intense selective pressures to evolve, like certain night-blooming specialist plant relationships.


While most bees have very minimal vision allowing only basic navigation in dimly lit hives at night, true nighttime activity outdoors is rare due to insufficient light perception and excessive navigation challenges after dusk. Only a handful of tropical bee species possess complex adaptations enabling notable night vision and foraging under moonlight or starlight conditions. For the vast majority of bees, daylight remains essential to their functioning. While not completely blind, they essentially live in a diurnal world of light. Yet the few bees that do see at night reveal the powers of specialized evolution.