honey bee behavior

How often do honey bees sleep in the flowers?

The honey bee forager shown below was asleep in my garden this morning. Hanging on to a cold and dewy cosmos, she looked dead. But a couple of flashes from my camera brought her around, and after a few minutes, she flew away. Maybe she just wasn’t into boudoir-type photos.

Usually, it’s the males

Wild bees of many types regularly sleep in flowers, but I seldom see honey bees do it. In many bee species, it is the males that stay outside at night, sometimes in large groups called leks. This happens because once the males emerge from their nest, they have no place to go. They spend their days hanging around nesting sites looking for newly emerged females and perhaps defending their territory. When not girl-chasing, they feed on nectar until the sun goes down and then hole up for the night.

Around here, I often see Melissodes males curled up with their heads buried between the petals of a thistle. I also see wool carder bees grasping the small flowers of a lemon balm or peppermint. Leafcutting bees will sometimes spend the night in a cosmos or a sunflower. I’ve also seen small bees, such as Ceratina, bury themselves head first in a blossom.

Other common flower sleepers are bumble bees, both male and female. In the fall especially, young queens preparing themselves for winter can be seen using flowers for a bed. Here in my garden, I’ve seen huge bumble bee queens sleeping in the Autumn Joy sedum or clasping onto dahlias.

Why not go home?

I’m not sure why a honey bee would spend the night outside unless she got too cold to return home or unless she lost her way once the sun went down. I tried to watch the one I found this morning, but she took off like a shot once she decided to go. Based on her exuberance, she didn’t seem ill or distressed, so it makes me wonder why she didn’t return home last evening.

Only occasionally do I see a honey bee outside at night, but if you get up early and stroll through your own flowers, you are likely to see one clutching a petal and covered with dew.

Honey Bee Suite

How often does a honey bee sleep in the flowers like this?
This honey bee forager slept in my garden hanging from a cosmos petal. At first, I thought she was dead, but then she flew away. © Rusty Burlew.

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  • New subject: hive beetles. Last year we had a horrible case of hive beetles, actually lost one hive and struggled with three others. This spring we installed nematodes in the ground around the hives and, walla, not one this year. Five clean hives.


    Brian and Linda

      • The most commonly used type is Heterorhabditus indica, but results will largely depend on your soil type.

        • So, I just did some more detailed investigation regarding the nematodes you mentioned Rusty. We don’t have either Heterorhabditis indica or Steinernema riobrave in Australia. Instead H Bacteriophora with H Zechadica are used to combat SHB. They apparently compare quite favourably in efficacy in dealing with SHB, a study was done in 2008. I have just put an order in for some & will be interested to see if there are noticeable difference in the populations ‘co existing’ in my hives.

  • I remember seeing bees lying on the beach of Lake Michigan near Sheboygan when a kid. They would be on the sand in the cool early morning but gone an hour later. My grandfather said they got tired flying home and took a nap in the still warm sand. I have pet bees sleeping on sunflowers. When you do that they stretch out a back leg as if to say go away, I’m not ready to get up.

  • In early spring I often found honey bees clinging to blades of grass right in front of the hive and on the landing board. Some lying on their sides all curled up looking pretty dead. I would pick them up and place them in a plastic bowl lined with paper towel which soaked up the dew and by the time I had finished my cup of coffee they were moving around and later buzzing to go home. I took them out and released them. In the summer I found some clinging to the robber screen since I had major robbing problems this late summer. I picked them up because the yellowjackets, being more early risers were picking them off the screen and flying off with them to eat for breakfast! Couldn’t tell if they were robbers or not but it was the principle of the thing. Just not right to be plucked off before you could defend yourself!

  • @ Brian Woodcock:

    1. Where are you located geographically?
    2. Where did you get the nematodes in what form and how did you introduce them?

    Thanks, Dieter

  • Last year and this year I put down nematodes and diatomaceous earth. Five hives this year. They range from 4-6 supers. Some deep but mostly mediums. Took all of them apart yesterday and went frame by frame looking for brood, stores and pollen. Did not see one hive beetle. Do they work? I’ll do it again next year.????

    • Just this morning I found 3 in my zinnias! I love it. Something I learned only this year with my garden. I love bees.

  • A question to Brian and Linda, I am not familiar with nematodes. How do you apply it? Also how do they work to erraticate the beetle?


    • Harold,

      In case they don’t answer, the nematodes attack the larval stage of SHB when they are in the soil. Timing of application has to be match larval migration from the hives.

  • Rusty,

    I imagine anytime the temperature drops while they’re still foraging, honey bees would become lethargic wherever they are.

    Here, the past 20 years, we’ve had more of what the weather folks call “non-diurnal temperature shifts.” It’s normal for the day to reach its warmest just as the sun starts to descend, and that angle cues bees to “go home.” If the air cools while the sun is still high, the forager might get sleepy on a flower and stay there all night.

    What’s really rough on bees are the winter days we’ve had where it’s 60 in early afternoon and then drops suddenly to 30 before sundown. In that case, any bee that had ventured out would die during the night. There have been 3 or 4 such instances per winter, lately, when all we can do is hope that few enough became active to affect the colony’s strength.

    I’ll try to find a picture I took of a honey bee “asleep” or at least very still on a sunflower. The sun had warmed her by the time I spotted her, and she went back to gathering and then flew off.

    Corinth, Kentucky

    • We experienced a version of this a few days in upstate NY last winter, afternoon temperature close to 70 that plummeted to below freezing very quickly. This was detrimental to the bees inside the hive, as well as the foragers. As the temperature dropped and the sun dipped behind the mountain, colonies caught out of cluster did not survive.

      • I can’t follow the logic. We do have Chinooks quite regularly in the Rocky Mt. Foothills with temperatures up to +10 °C in January. But then the bees will emerge for a cleansing flight which may take them a few meters or 100 m away at the most. They don’t fly for miles. There is nothing to forage. And if the temperature drops it will not be so rapidly that they are taken by surprise. They should make it back to their hive. What am I missing?

      • Li –
        70 to freezing is a very drastic shift!
        On those days, I cover my 4 hives with 3-sided foam insulation panels. They’re just strips of 1-inch Dow Board, cut to fit the back and sides, taped together with Tyvek and tied in place with (usually) baling twine or bungee cords. They protect from wind (the backs of the hives are to windward) as well as conserving any heat that remains within. My hives also have moisture quilts – see this Page’s detailed instructions for those,
        How well it works? I haven’t lost a hive to cold in 4 years. Hope this is helpfull

  • Well, I’m in a pickle. We checked the hives (2 nucs adjacent to each other) a week before leaving on vacation and all was well. My mentor was supposed to check them during the 2 weeks we were away, but couldn’t come. The day after we got home, my mentor came over and to my horror, one hive had NO stores, and the other had some. We had robbing screens up. I’ve been feeding them and they’re sucking up about 2 pints a day, plus I have some syrup in a couple of pie pans and have taken the lids off of my hummingbird feeders. Here’s the issue though: the bees (they are honeybees) are bothering the neighbors across the street who have 2 little boys and a baby. I know there are at least 2 other beekeepers in the neighborhood, so can’t be sure they’re my bees, but we’re going to seal up the hive tonight and see what happens tomorrow. While changing out the syrup jars about an hour ago, I got 6 stings through my levis in my upper thigh (make that the groin area). The bees are flying all over the place. I’m washing my pants in case there are pheromones on them, but Geez! Any ideas? Please?!

    • Liz,

      That sounds like typical behavior in a nectar dearth. There’s nothing for them to forage on, so they hang around and cause trouble. There is not much you can do but wait it out. They will calm down when the weather changes.

      One tip, though. Whenever you feed out in the open (pie pans, bird feeders) you attract bees from miles around and they begin that zipping and darting behavior. I would close up all outside food sources and feed them inside the hive. It will take a while for them to calm down because bees from all over will keep coming back to check the former location for more food.

  • Nematodes. I disagree with the “timing” issue. nematodes live in the soil. the h.b. larvae have to get to the soil to mature into the beetles. this happens all during spring, summer and fall. the nematodes are waiting. so you take the mite board out so the larvae fall thru to the soil and, voila, dinner is served. point being, if you have hive beetles they are producing eggs, larvae 24/7. i put mine dow on 4-15. there is no timing involved. if you feed them, they will come.

    • Lloyd,

      According to the new book, The Small Hive Beetle (2017) by WM Michael Hood, Professor Emeritus of Entomology, Clemson University, timing in the use of nematodes is everything. It seems that the nematodes must be released at the same time that larval beetle migration from the hive begins. Now, it sounds like you are lucky enough that your nematodes are surviving in your particular soil, but they will not persist in all soil types or in all places. For one thing, they must have something to eat when they are not eating small hive beetles, which is most of the time. Some soils will not support the proper food, or be too wet, too dry, to acidic, too clayey, or whatever. Just as all beekeeping is local, all nematode-keeping is local too, and what works in one place will not work in another. Micro-environments are key to many of these biological control agents, and are the reason these things are rarely universal in their ability to control pests.

  • Rusty some do stay out overnight.

    I have moved several hives this year for various reasons. Screened them at 5am when they were “all inside.” By day break there were several sitting on the screen trying to get in. After moving them there were 5 to 15 per hive that returned when it warmed up. Seemed consistent every time I moved bees. Lately I leave the smallest hive when I move several. The returning bees fly around and eventually join the only hive there. Then after a rainy day, I screen the next morning and move the last one. Seems if they did not fly the day before they have hardly any bees out. These are Russians, so it may differ with different kinds of bees as to if they are out too late to make it back. I would think at some temp or darkness they just sit it out.

  • I have three hives doing well and one small weak hive. It was a late split with a new queen someone gave me. It has only about three frames of bees in a single 10 frame deep, and I am feeding them. My question is how many bees do you need to survive winter? I can add frames of bees from strong hives but risk weakening them or just let this hive take its chances. If I re-combine it with a strong hive I looe the queen who looks good and is laying. Thank you. Also, thank you for the recommendation of the book, The Queen Must Die, it is very good.

  • Rusty, the goldenrod is blooming in Ohio and last night at dusk I saw many bumblebees tucked into the blossoms for the night. I noticed something large, dark and fuzzy. Thinking it was a caterpillar, I took a closer look and found a cluster of bumblebees. They were resting very tightly together. I took a photo but can’t figure out how to send it to you. Today, in the sunshine, the goldenrod was hopping with honey bees, bumble bees, that fly that mimics honey bees and a couple kinds of hornet/wasps. That same spot where I found the big cluster last night still had a cluster, but today they were more loosely gathered. They appeared to be festooning. Do bumblebees do that? Might they have been mating? The bee at the top of the conglomerate was definitely larger. A few minutes later, they had moved on.

    • Audrey,

      I would love to see a photo of this cluster. You can email it to me at rusty@honeybeesuite.com. The bumble bees I see at night are either males or newly emerged queens, so you may have seen a group of males with a queen. I’ve heard no reports of bumble bees festooning, but they do huddle together for warmth and protection.

  • Bumbles definately sleep out at night, are less bothered by cool temps. We’ve written a couple of times about spring queens sleeping in crocus, including: http://olypollinators.blogspot.com/2015/02/bed-and-breakfast-for-bumble-bees.html. In the summer with long days and abundant bumble drones, overnighters are common but I rarely get outside early enough to see them shake off their slumber. I s’pose I oughta try.

    (PS Looks like you need to post about SHB again. I’m sure you know that they bother bumbles too.)


  • Hi! For the past 24 hours we have observed a bumblee bee attached to our lavender plant. The bee moves a slight bit when approached but does not fly off. I would love some information about why the bee has decided to “sleep” here for so long.

  • Hi there! I know this isn’t related to bees sleeping in flowers, but I saw a bee exhibiting some strange behavior in my yard and I wondered if it was in distress or if its behavior is normal for bees. It perched on the edge of my arborvitae and began scraping it’s head and back legs over and over again with its middle legs. I have a video of it if that would help. It did eventually fly away, but I’m worried it got pesticide on it or something. Do you know if that’s a behavior of distress or just normal grooming or something else?

  • I live in Vancouver, BC and the weather suddenly dropped from really hot to rainy and cold and I’ve been finding bumble bees sleeping deep inside my gladiolus and at the hummingbird feeder (it has a plastic screen so bees can’t get inside) or even inside rose blossoms. They’ve been there for almost two days but when I gently blow warm air on them they start to move again so they’re still alive. I’ve noticed this before in early spring and assumed it was because of the sudden cold and they couldn’t fly and were unable to return to their hive. When it warms up they come back to life and fly. It’s so interesting to know that I’m not the only one seeing this.

  • This is a long old thread, but I just took some pics of a bee that looked dead, hanging from a cluster of flowers with her tongue hanging out. I got a bunch of shots and pulled the flower in closer to get a look, which I guess woke her up and she flew off. One of the stranger things I think I’ve seen in life.

    Thanks for the post, at least now… I guess I think I know more or less that what I saw wasn’t completely X-Files material.

  • Comb honey in glass jars

    I have questions. Can I use this method in gulf countries with very high temperatures at all times of year?

  • Every time I’ve found a comatose honey bee (all females) on a flower in the morning, there has been either heavy dew or rainfall in the night, and over 90° humidity. The temperature has been 60-65°F (I’m in Bermuda). They will be there at least an hour after I’ve spotted them, even after the petals have dried out and other bees appeared, (The sleepers do eventually fly off.) So, more to do with humidity than temperature, and too much weight (water) for flying? I’m certainly the same way…in fact the higher the temperature the more torpid I am!

    PS: wonderful photo