Honeybees certainly know how to make hay while the Sun shines, and go into overdrive if the next day is likely to be rainy, according to a new study. Exactly how they know to expect a downpour is not yet certain, although their increased foraging efforts immediately prior to a rainy day may enable them to avoid food shortages while camped inside their hives as they wait for the Sun to come back out.
Honeybees are far from the only creatures not to need a weatherman. Sharks, for instance, are highly sensitive to the drops in barometric pressure that tend to precede storms, while cats are thought to be able to detect static electricity changes in the air, enabling them to forecast weather changes. Accordingly, several species have been observed altering their behavior in order to protect themselves from the rain, with some species of frog being known to hide their egg masses and some spiders having been seen to spin shorter, sturdier webs.
The earliest reports of honeybees becoming more active before storms date back to the late 19th century, although until now this observation had never been scientifically confirmed. To address this, researchers form Jiangxi Agricultural University’s Honeybee Research Institute tagged 300 bees with tiny devices that enabled them to track the insects’ activity using a technique called Radio Frequency Identification.
Publishing their findings in the journal Insect Science, they note that “there was a significant difference in foraging duration depending on the next day’s weather, with bees spending longer total times outside the hive on days that were followed by a rainy day compared to those followed by sunny days.” They also discovered that “quitting time” – the time of day that the last bees returned to the hive for the night – was later if the following day was due to be a wet one.
They therefore conclude that honeybees make a concerted effort to gather more food before rainy days, which may be of great importance to their ability to survive through periods of bad weather. Speculating on how honeybees are able to forecast these weather changes, the study authors point to previous research that has shown that the insects’ behavior is influenced by changes in carbon dioxide levels, humidity, temperature, and pressure, suggesting an internal mechanism for detecting these variables.