Yes, bees will happily take flight on damp days but flying in the rain for long periods or during severe rains can be dangerous for bees.
Bumblebees are more likely to forage during rainy days than other species like the honeybee that will opt to stay inside the hive during precipitation.
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?
What happens if a bee gets wet?
Most bees can still fly with small water droplets on their wings, thorax and abdomen. Issues can occur when the moisture on a bee’s body begins to build up and create extra weight when flying.
Bumblebees 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 for bees and can reduce the time of their foraging flights or in extreme cases ground them all together.
Large raindrops can also cause problems, knocking bees out of the air mid-flight. In the video below you can watch honeybees navigate the large drops that are landing at the entrance to the hive and some brave inhabitants taking flight and returning.
Can bees predict rain?
While there is no conclusive scientific proof that bees can predict incoming rains, some observed behaviours suggest they would.
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 honeybees’ reactions to incoming rains.
The experiment attached 300 radio tags to honeybees from three different hives. The movements of each bee were recorded for data analysis at a later stage.
Xu-Jiang He and his team focused primarily on recording when each bee left the hive, how long their foraging trips were, and when they opted to stop working for the evening and stay inside the hive.
The results produced some fascinating observations when weather stations reported rain in the coming days, honeybees were observed foraging later into the evening and spending more time foraging than usual.
This could indicate a prediction of incoming bad weather and rains. Rains storms are preceded by changes in temperature, barometric pressure and humidity. Xu-Jiang He theorises honeybees have the ability to sense these changes and react accordingly, foraging more intensively when heavy rains could reduce their ability to forage in the coming days.
You can check out the research on bees and precipitation here.
How do bees prepare for heavy rains?
Honeybees actively work to prevent damage to their hive or nest from storms. Worker bees will set about 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 foraging bees previously tasked with collecting pollen and nectar 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.
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.
You can find the research article here.
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 for more information.