The sight of a total solar eclipse makes people drop everything and rush out into the street, their eyes fixed on the gradually dimming orb as the moon eats up the sun.
Just like humans, bees also take a break from their daily routine during a total solar eclipse — although their reason couldn’t be more different than ours.
As it turns out, this spectacular and rare astronomical event affects bees in a very peculiar way, prompting them to stop flying and to go completely silent, reports Science Alert.
The discovery was made by citizen scientists, who studied bee behavior during the 2017 total solar eclipse. While the rest of America marveled at the beauty of last year’s August 21 eclipse, a science project took advantage of this rare opportunity to examine how bees react during totality — or the moment of total obscuration in an eclipse.
To find out what bees do during a total solar eclipse, the scientists installed 16 acoustic monitoring stations in Oregon, Idaho, and Missouri, following the path of totality. These stations were set up far from human noise, in areas known as fervent pollination grounds, and recorded the buzz of bees via small USB microphones. The results were startling.
The bees’ activity was also monitored with the help of light and temperature sensors hung up in several of the locations. The results of this unique investigation were presented today in a study published by biologists from the University of Missouri in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.
“It seemed like the perfect fit,” said study lead author Candace Galen. “The tiny microphones and temperature sensors could be placed near flowers hours before the eclipse, leaving us free to put on our fancy glasses and enjoy the show.”
According to the findings, bees went on about their business right up until totality and immediately after, but ceased all activity while the sun was completely obscured by the moon.
The study shows that, when faced with the total darkness of the eclipse, the insects suddenly stopped flying and went silent, bringing their buzzing to an abrupt halt. For the duration of the eclipse’s totality, the 16 acoustic stations recorded only a single bee buzz.
“We anticipated, based on the smattering of reports in the literature, that bee activity would drop as light dimmed during the eclipse and would reach a minimum at totality,” explained Galen. “But we had not expected that the change would be so abrupt, that bees would continue flying up until totality and only then stop, completely. It was like ‘lights out’ at summer camp! That surprised us.”
Another interesting revelation was that, in the moments leading up to totality and soon after it, bee flights were longer than early on and later during the eclipse, notes Phys.org. This is consistent with bee behavior at dusk, when the insects tend to fly slower, relaxing their pace as they head back home after a busy day.
The findings suggests that, for bees, a total solar eclipse seems to signal the end of the day — as is the case for birds and diurnal reef fish.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, was the first to be visible all across the United States in almost a century. The next total solar eclipse to be seen in North America will occur on April 8, 2024.
This gives Galen enough time to perfect her system of studying bee behavior and to establish beyond any doubt whether these insects interpret the totality of an eclipse as the end of the day.
More than 400 scientists and citizen scientists, including a large number of school children, took part in last year’s investigation.