Humans have always been fascinated by the movements of celestial bodies, and this is especially true when it comes to a total solar eclipse. Unlike a partial solar eclipse, a total eclipse completely blots out the sun’s rays, making the sun-lit portion of the earth as dark as night for a short period of time. Given how infrequently total solar eclipses occur, it is easy to overlook how wildlife is affected by this temporary darkness. Many scientists have been curious as to how certain animals that are active during the daytime respond to total eclipses. Bees, for example, only carry out their pollination duties during the daytime hours. Considering how important bee-pollination is for agricultural production and ecosystem health, a group of researchers decided to explore how bees react to the temporary darkness brought on by a total solar eclipse.
On August 21st of 2017, many people living in North America eagerly anticipated a total solar eclipse. On this day, ecologist Candace Galen of the University of Missouri decided to conduct an experiment on how bees respond to a solar eclipse. Since bees are only active from dawn until dusk, Galen wondered if bees would suddenly cease all activity while the moon blocked the sun’s rays from reaching North America. Galen decided to record the buzzing of bees by outfitting flowers all over America with microphones. In order to accomplish this monumental task, Galen was assisted by hundreds of elementary school children who placed microphones on the flowers in the areas where they lived. Sure enough, the constant buzzing of bees stopped entirely during the darkness of the eclipse, but she was surprised by how abruptly this occured.
Bees continued to buzz right up until the sun was completely blotted out. Once total darkness fell, bees suddenly ceased all activity, and not a single buzz could be heard. This was an unexpected reaction, as busy bees only cease all activity under unusual conditions, such as oncoming storms. According to other experts, bees have not adapted to perform during solar eclipses. In addition to the abrupt end to the bees’ buzzing, Galen also noted that the buzzing became longer and more drawn out as the darkness increased. Longer buzz-lengths indicate that bees are flying more slowly, similar to how a person driving a car slows down when visibility decreases. This finding indicates that bees may completely lose their ability to see during the darkness brought on by a total eclipse. Galen plans on adding to her data during the cross-continental eclipse that will occur in the year 2024.
Have you ever heard of any other strange insect reactions to solar eclipses?