bee collecting nectar and pollen from a flower after heavy rain

Can bees fly in the rain?

Last updated on January 19th, 2024 at 03:53 pm

Yes, bees will happily take flight on damp days but flying in the rain for long periods or during heavy rain can be dangerous.

Bumble bees are more likely to forage during rainy days than other species like the honey bee that will opt to stay inside the hive during wet weather.

So how do bees behave during and after rains, how much rain is too much for a bee to take flight and what can you do to help the bees in your hive?

Find out the answers to this and more in our short read, can bees fly in the rain?

Where do bees go when it rains?

When the rain begins to fall, bees seek shelter. Their instinct for self-preservation drives them to find refuge in their delicate wings.

  • Honey bees retreat to their hives. Here, they continue their work, tending to the queen and the young, or busying themselves with hive maintenance.
  • Bumble bees take a more solitary approach finding solace under large flower petals or dense foliage, waiting patiently for the rain to pass.
  • Solitary bees make use of their nests during rain. These nests may be burrowed into the ground, hidden in wooden crevices, or built into plant stems, providing a cosy, dry haven.

do bees fly in the rain?

Most bees can still fly with small water droplets on their wings, thorax and abdomen. Issues occur when the moisture on a bee’s body begins to build up and create extra weight when flying.

Bumble bees are only ever approximately 45 minutes from starvation due to the high-calorie intake required to keep their large bodies in the air.

Added moisture acts as extra weight, reducing the time of their foraging flights or in extreme cases, grounding them all together.

Large raindrops can also cause problems, knocking bees out of the air mid-flight.

In the video below you can watch honey bees navigate the large drops that are landing at the entrance.

do bees know when it’s going to rain?

While there is no conclusive scientific proof that bees can predict incoming rains, some observed behaviours suggest they can.

Xu-Jiang He and colleagues at Jiangxi Agricultural University in Nanchang, China decided to put the theory to the test with the first-ever experiment focused solely on recording honey bees’ reactions to incoming rains.

The experiment attached 300 radio tags to honey bees from three different hives. The movements of each bee were recorded for data analysis at a later stage.

Xu-Jiang He focused primarily on recording when each bee left the hive, how long their foraging trips were, and when they stopped working for the evening.

The results were fascinating. When weather stations reported rain in the coming days, honey bees began foraging later into the evening and spending more time foraging than usual.

This could indicate a prediction of incoming bad weather and rains. Rain storms are preceded by changes in temperature, barometric pressure and humidity.

Xu-Jiang He theorises honey bees can sense these changes and react accordingly, foraging more intensively when heavy rains could reduce their chances of foraging in the coming days.

what do bees do in the rain?

Honey bees work to prevent damage to their hive or nest from storms. Worker bees start filling any gaps that may be exposed to the elements with propolis.

This has a two-fold benefit, creating a watertight seal and reinforcing the hive as a whole adding to its structural rigidity.

When heavy rains keep bees inside the hive the foragers take on a new role. As the biomass inside the hive increases so does the humidity and temperature.

Worker bees will be tasked with flapping their wings to both cool the hive and reduce the excess moisture created by the large concentration of bees,

How to help your bees during heavy rains and storms

Your first port of call should be to check your hive for any imbalance that could lead to it toppling in heavy winds.

This can be catastrophic for your bees so consider adding some weight to the top of your hive when a large storm is approaching.

This has the added benefit of protecting your hive’s cover and keeping it firmly in place.

In extreme cases like hurricanes and tornadoes, you may want to relocate your hive inside or use heavy-duty industrial straps to tie it down.

A bee collecting nectar and pollen after heavy rain.

Do bees change behaviour because of incoming rains?

Yes, in a recent study conducted by E. E. Southwick & R. F. A. Moritz entitled ‘Effects of meteorological factors on defensive behaviour of honey bees’ concluded that bees will become more defensive when weather conditions deteriorate.

The researchers found that these changes in behaviour align with the result of meteorological factors, including temperature, humidity, amount of solar radiation, wind speed, and barometric pressure.

Some beekeepers suspect this may be due to the bee’s awareness of a limited food supply and a lack of viable foraging days in the future.

This would explain the defensiveness of the bees observed, particularly around honey stores.

What to do if you find a single drowning bee?

If you find a single bee that is waterlogged while out on your travels there are some steps you can take to try and ensure its survival.

Check out our guide on how to help a drowning bee to get all of our handy tips.

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