I often come across lists of honey bee trivia, and one of the most common assertions is that bees never sleep. “That’s so cool!” I hear people say. “Imagine that!”
But not everyone agrees. In fact, the British Beekeepers Association says honey bees sleep 5 to 7 hours per day, usually in the hive at night.
Bees seek forty winks
However, some bees sleep outside the hive too. For example, beekeepers and bee photographers the world over have reported seeing bees asleep in flowers, hanging from blades of grass, or sitting on a stone. The bees may remain stationary for hours, only to fly away when disturbed.
Honey bee authority Jürgen Tautz in his book The Buzz About Bees, tells us that foragers enter a pronounced state of sleep once darkness falls outside the hive. He describes the phenomenon like this:
“Sleeping bees can be identified by a posture reflecting a lack of muscle tonus, in which the antennae hang down, and the legs are folded beneath the body.”
He goes on to explain that young bees sleep for shorter periods than foragers. Similar to human babies, young bees are fond of “cat naps.” Conversely, adult foragers have a sleep pattern that mimics a human adult, a night of long deep sleep. The adult pattern probably reflects the arduous demands of foraging.
Sleep patterns change with age
An article published in the Journal of Experimental Biology (2008) by Ada D. Eban-Rothschild and Guy Bloch entitled “Differences in the sleep architecture of forager and young honeybees (Apis mellifera)” describes the different sleep patterns seen in young bees versus foragers. The piece is nicely summarized by Kathryn Phillips:
“According to the team . . . the 3-day-olds slept as deeply as elderly foragers, moving down through light and medium sleep until they reach deep sleep. But the way the youngsters moved between different sleep states was different from their elders.
“Instead of waking up immediately, like the foragers who move directly from deep sleep to consciousness, the youngsters sometimes dipped back down into deep sleep…and often moved back and forth between light, medium and deep sleep…Once foragers wake in the morning they remain active until sunset, but the youngsters only woke for several hours at a time before dozing off again.”
Overall the youngsters slept as much as their elders and were easy to arose when the lights went on. But the older bees had a well-defined sleep pattern that the youngsters lacked.
Signs of a sleeping bee
Most researchers agree that honey bees show definite signs of sleep. Their legs are folded close to their body, their heads may lie directly on the “floor,” and the antennae are held still. Some bees may even fall over on their sides. Oddly, some wild species clamp on a plant with their mandibles and spend the night hanging. Others, like bumble bees, may nestle into a closed flower.
When people see a sleeping bee, they often think it is dead. I used to do that, too. But now I often give it a nudge, just to check. Sure enough, it usually flies away or begins to forage.
We like to think of bees as “super-human” so we ascribe all sorts of unnatural behaviors to them—including the rumor that they don’t sleep. But bees are unusual and amazing naturally, so we don’t need to make up stuff. So get over it! Honey bees definitely sleep.
Honey Bee Suite
I have a large flower pot full of sweat bees, How can I get rid of them?
If the flower pot is small enough to carry, you could just dump it somewhere. If you must kill the bees (and I hope you don’t) a spray of soapy water will kill them and not contaminate anything else.
Do bees sleep? Yes they do, after questioning myself about a flowering plant awash with bees in the day time, I went outside at night with a flashlight and there they all were, sleeping, no movement even when I “wiggled” the flowers, fast asleep! Still not moving the next morning at 6:30 am. 8 am all abuzz again!
Do honey bees sleep? If they do it would be good to know that.
Another reason to be up and outdoors early. If the days are sunny and nights are cool, it is no surprise to find bees asleep on sunflower, chicory, fall asters and ironweed. Seems if the temperature drops while it’s still light, and they aren’t finished foraging, they sleep where they are. Almost always, as they wake, they start foraging again before they fly away.
It’s just sad that if it drops too much, they may die away from the hive. It’s gotten back up in the 50s and 60s here this weekend, and they are out and about. I guess they are gathering water and propolis, but I did see one come in with teensy pollen baskets on! Brave girl!
Bumblebees sleep on my flowers a lot. They really like flowers with flat tops, like Sedum spectabile ‘Neon’ Stonecrop, pentas, and spirea shrubs. All the bees have loved these the most, even more than coneflowers in my gardens.
Another myth busted. Kewl. “Get over it.” You crack me up, Rusty.
The other day I had my honey spinner out with wax and all to be cleaned up by the bees after extracting. I had it in the shade and it was a nice day- not hot just nice. All the bees were all over it doing their thing. I Noticed one bee was on her back, legs up, not moving and basically dead. I poked her and picked her up by a leg and she was surely dead-never moved at all. I felt bad for her and wondered why she had died as it wasn’t cold and it wasn’t hot and no other bees were dead. How could she have died chowing away on honey I wondered?
This was late morning. All day I checked on the bees and she was still there on her back dead. I figured I would move her when all the other bees left for,the night. Early in the evening I was watching the bees and all of a sudden the dead bee started moving. She wiggled her legs and then rolled over and fluffed her wings and in a few minutes flew off! This was after about 9 hours lying there not moving. I’ve resurrected cold bees after looking dead for a day but have never seen one on a warm day come back to life like that.
Soooooooo, I guess from reading your post that she was just napping???Too funny.
Talk about the sleep of the dead . . . that’s really strange.
@ Grace; Ha ha! So cute. Maybe she overate and was sleeping the sleep of overindulgence. Thank you for looking out for the bees 🙂
Jere you go honey bee 😉
Rusty, what about the queen? Have you come across any research describing the sleeping pattern – or lack thereof – of a queen honey bee? Thanks!
Hmm, very interesting question but no. I’ve never seen anything about the sleep pattern of queen bees.
Hi. I have an American bumble bee on one of my geranium plants on my porch. He or she is huge and has been there since I’ve come home from work today around 5 pm. It appears that it’s just clinging to one of the flowers. I cannot tell if it’s dead or alive (praying still alive). Tried givin it some sugar water and not appeared as though it moved a bit afterwards. I am hoping to see it gone in the am. and praying it’s okay.
I brought in the bee because I thought it was not moving because of the cold and It was on some lavender, I also gave it sugar water. It was moving if it was touched, it would put up a leg like it was saying leave me alone! Do they die like this or is it just sleeping its been like over 8 hours.
It could be either. They sleep in flowers, but they can also die in the flowers.
i just now came across your comment from July 2016 and I’m very hoping to know which it turned out to be for that bee of yours!
Was the little one just sleeping or was he sleeping with the fin-ches. (get it)
I’m hoping it turned out to be a nap. : )
This morning around 7:30 am, I was outside and spotted several bees very still on the side of the house, not moving. It was cool, around 59 degrees. The area they were in was on the patio, under a wisteria that is blooming again for the 3rd time this year. That is the first time I have ever seen what I considered bees sleeping.
Sometimes they stay out too long, I think. They get too cold to fly and then spend the night on the siding. I’ve seen that too.
Grace – you confuddled me now. \I have a dish that I put sugar water in for the bees. Twice now, I’ve come across a bee on it’s back. Next day or so, it was gone. I thought maybe the other bees made a snack of them but maybe they came back from the dead too! Life’s little mysteries.
YES! That’s exactly what happened with mine. Perhaps they get a full ‘tummy” and take a nap! I really think so because there’s no other explanation for one to lie there for hours and then hop up and fly away! They really are amazing creatures, and if they can tell their sisters exactly where to find food miles away, why should we be surprised that they can do something as ordinary as take a nap?
I got a huge raspberry heddge out back with beautiful groth of berrys BUT lots of BEE-BEE bumbulbees….. and like to get my berrys? will they sleep the night and maybe I can get a big bowl of berrys. Up here the day temp is 60-65 and night down 36-40. I don’t like to get sting.
Bees out on the bushes are highly unlikely to sting you. Just pick the berries and ignore the bees.
My bees quit the hive. I have a new queen but had a problem w/wax months. I caught the queen and put her back in the hive where she couldn’t get out and have been putting honey on new frames and putting them in the hive when the bees cluster on it. I have the entrance blocked off so they can’t leave w’syrup in a feeder. Will they stay after I open up the entrance? How long would I have to keep them confined?
Thank you for any help/advice you can give me. Alex
Once the bees begin to build comb they will most likely stay.
I enjoy putting flowers out for the bees and have been rewarded this year. Problem is I have two cats. One cat killed one big bee and it was upsetting and now leads to all kinds of googling
I don’t let the cat’s on this particular “deck” NOW unless supervised. Curious though, the cats need to be out too – what time do bees “go to bed”? so that I can let the cats do their thing too…???
Usually by dusk, most bees are inside for the night.
Important to note that cats are the number one killer of birds. Cats indoors always.
And around here, cats are vital for rodent control. Hanta virus, deadly to humans, is known to show up now and again in deer mice. Cats are our best protection.
This is a magic world, do the bees know that there are humans commenting about their life? their sleeping night is in a bed of flowers, all their awesome life of teste, smell and colors?
I recently rescued a drowning bee I found while emptying some rain-filled watering cans in my backyard. I didn’t notice him at first because he was so small, but after I had emptied all the cans and was putting them away, I saw him laying on the bottom of the biggest one.
I thought for sure he was dead, but I offered him a small stick and after a moment he crawled on and let me lift him to safety. I put him in the sun and made him some sugar water in a snapple lid but he didn’t move for a long time, just held fast to his little branch. After a couple of hours, he started to groom himself and pump his abdomen for flight. He seemed to get frustrated after a while and started doing these strange little bee somersaults (which had me very worried) but eventually he settled down and crawled over to the tiny dish of sugar water after I offered him a fresh mixture, but only seemed to hold on to the rim.
I let him do his thing for a couple more hours (and named him Barry) but by this time it was starting to get cold and dark and he hadn’t moved from the rim of the dish, so I prepped a little bee ICU out of a small box. I put holes in the lid, lined the bottom with a folded paper towel I had cut to fit inside the box and around his water dish, then collected some small leaves and flowers to make him feel comfortable.
As soon as I offered him the tiny purple flowers I’d found he let go of his dish and hugged one tight, letting me place him inside his little b&b. I closed the box up and placed him in our sunroom for the night to let him rest, and in the morning around 10 am went to check on my guest after making him some more sugar water for breakfast.
He looked terrible! He almost seemed pale and was curled up on his back, still clutching the tiny flower with his little face buried into it. I gently rolled him over and stroked him with a soft leaf, and to my surprise he stuck out a little leg as if I were annoying him. I still wasn’t confidant he was going to make it, but I took his box outside and placed it on the hood of my car so he could get some sun. About 30 minutes after that, he’d let go of his flower and made his way to his breakfast, and it took him another 15 or 20 after eating to flight prep and take off.
Barry the bee was with me for over 24 hours and I didn’t think he was going to make it, but he was so strong and brave and managed to recover. Never give up on our little bee friends, they’re full of surprises!
How can bees sleep if they have to cluster to stay warm? They don’t
But they do. Bees can sleep in the cluster. They all don’t need to sleep at the same time.
One of the bees from our hive (I assume) has made these pollen towers on one of our windows in my husband’s office. In the morning he opens the window just a little and the bee is always asleep there. This has been going on for over a week. At night he waits until the bee has come back and he closes the window (they are casements) and the bee sleeps under the rubber folds. I have never seen or heard of this. She is basically my husband’s pet. Have you seen this before?
This sounds like the work of a solitary bee of some type, not a honey bee. Most likely she is building a pollen provision in advance of laying an egg on it.
I live in rainy Vancouver and had a honey bee crash land on my balcony beside me late in the day 4 days ago. It’s been cold and rainy since then. I’ve done my best to give it sugar water, put flowers in the box with it, but it barely moves with this weather system. Today it didn’t eat at all. Tomorrow’s weather shows some hope for it but I’ve been worried whether it’ll survive another day, specially since it hasn’t eaten today. It just laid dormant all day under the lid I put in the box with some sugar water on it. Does anyone know about this dormant state and how long it can survive in that state without eating?