Why do bees stop buzzing during a total solar eclipse?
On August 21, 2017, the day of total solar eclipse, bees took a break from their daily routines and stopped buzzing! This observation was made by the researchers at the University of Missouri, who organized a cadre of citizen scientists and elementary school classrooms in setting up acoustic monitoring stations to listen in on bees' buzzing--or lack thereof--as the eclipse passed over. The results of the study are published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.
It was already predicted that the bee activity would drop as light dimmed during the eclipse and would reach a minimum at totality. However, an abrupt change in which bees would stop completely, was something unexpected.
The project engaged more than 400 participants--including scientists, members of the public, and elementary school teachers and students--in setting up 16 monitoring stations. The recordings didn't allow for differentiation between bee species, but participant observations indicated most bees monitored were bumble bees (genus Bombus) or honey bees (Apis mellifera).
Bees commonly fly more slowly at dusk and return to their colonies at night, and so the same behavior triggered by a solar eclipse offers evidence about how they respond to environmental cues when those cues occur unexpectedly.