Total solar eclipses, one of nature’s most awe-inspiring phenomena, cast a shadow over the Earth, turning day into night for a brief, magical moment. While humans don eye protection and gaze skywards to witness this celestial spectacle, the animal kingdom reacts in its own unique ways. Among the most fascinating behaviors observed during these events is that of the honeybee, an insect known for its vital role in pollination and agriculture. Recent studies have shed light on how honeybees respond to the sudden darkness brought about by a total solar eclipse, providing insights into the natural world that often go unnoticed.

The Buzzing Halt

As the moon slides in front of the sun, casting its shadow upon the Earth, the temperature drops, and daylight fades to twilight. Observers have noted that the ambient noise of the natural world changes; birds stop singing, and crickets may begin their nocturnal chorus. Amidst these changes, honeybees exhibit a particularly dramatic response: they stop flying and go silent.

Research conducted during the 2017 total solar eclipse across North America provided a detailed look at honeybee behavior during such an event. Scientists equipped several bee hives with microphones and found that the bees’ buzzing activity decreased as the eclipse progressed, coming to a complete stop at totality—the point at which the moon entirely covers the sun.

Understanding the Silence

This sudden halt in activity raises questions about why honeybees respond this way to an eclipse. One theory is that bees, like many other creatures, are responding to the rapid environmental changes that accompany an eclipse: the darkening sky, cooling temperatures, and perhaps even changes in electromagnetic fields. Bees are known to use sunlight to navigate, and the darkness of an eclipse could signal to them that it is time to return to the hive.

However, the cessation of buzzing isn’t merely a matter of bees heading home. Observations show that bees generally don’t resume their normal activity immediately after the eclipse passes. This delay in getting back to their routine suggests that the bees are experiencing a period of adjustment, trying to make sense of the sudden shift from day to night and back again within a short span of time.

Ecological Significance

The study of honeybee behavior during solar eclipses is more than just a curiosity. It offers valuable insights into how environmental cues guide animal behavior. Understanding these responses can help scientists predict how changes in the environment, whether natural or human-made, may affect bees and other pollinators. This is particularly important in the context of global climate change, habitat loss, and other stressors on pollinator populations.

Moreover, bees play a crucial role in ecosystems as pollinators, supporting both wild habitats and agricultural systems. Any disruption in their behavior can have cascading effects on plant reproduction, crop yields, and ultimately, human food supplies.

The Takeaway

The silence of honeybees during a total solar eclipse is a reminder of the interconnectedness of life on Earth and the profound impacts celestial events can have on terrestrial life. It underscores the importance of observing, studying, and understanding wildlife behavior, not only to satisfy human curiosity but to ensure the resilience and health of ecosystems worldwide. As we continue to explore the mysteries of nature, phenomena like the honeybees’ eclipse-induced halt offer invaluable lessons about the world around us and our place within it.

SOURCE: BeeSource Forum

We are in the path of totality, and it seemed to me that no one told the bees about the eclipse :ROFLMAO: . They kept coming and going like they do on a normal cloudy day.

BUT, when totality hit, and it got dark enough that my son claimed to see a star (I didn’t), I went back out to the hives and used a flashlight to check. There was NO activity outside the hives. Nobody coming or going.

Soon after the totality, foragers were arriving again and leaving.

I thought that the bees would stop wherever they were when totality hit and just sit a few minutes to rest, and it appears that that’s exactly what they did. That makes sense, seeing they navigate by the sun. They were still flying when only a quarter or less of the sun was visible through eclipse glasses. (But out of the corner of my eye, I could see that the sun still appeared like a very bright spot in the sky.) Apparently, even if the sun is hidden by clouds, bees can continue to steer correctly by inferring the sun’s position from the pattern of polarized light that it creates in a patch of clear sky.

It was a bit cloudy here, but we were fortunate to be able to follow the eclipse most of the way, sometimes seeing clouds pass in front of the sun. For a couple minutes right after totality dark clouds hid the sun, but we are now more than 30 min away from the end of the eclipse, and we can see the sun again. But the best part was the strange feeling at the totality. We get bright nights here with the full moon, and that’s about how much light we had at totality.

I’ll have to go out to make sure the moon continues its path across the sun! ;)