Study Shows Bees Fall Silent During Solar Eclipses

During last year’s solar eclipse, scientists embarked on a number of ambitious experiments to track animal and insect behavior. One group of scientists wanted to see how the solar eclipse affected the activities of bees. What they discovered was astounding.

The new study monitored the acoustic activity of bees before, during and after the solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. Over 400 scientists, citizen scientists, and school students helped with the study. The study was recently published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

Researchers at the University of Missouri worked with the elementary school children to collect audio recordings of various types of bees as they visited flowers along the path of the eclipse. The group set up 16 monitoring locations in Oregon, Idaho and Missouri, planting tiny microphones into flower patches and gardens in areas as far as possible from human foot traffic that had high levels of bee pollination activity. Environmental sensors recording the temperature and brightness of the location were placed nearby.

The scientists and schoolchildren then evaluated the data by reviewing three-minute audio clips taken before and after totality – the moment when the moon completely blocked the sun – as well as a three-minute clip taken during totality. Scientists expected the bees to gradually stop buzzing as the sky darkened during the eclipse.

The researchers found that the insects happily buzzed throughout the day and during the partial phases of the eclipse, but went quiet the instant that the total eclipse occurred in their location. They identified only a single buzz during totality. Candace Galen, a biologist at the University of Missouri and lead author of the study, said, “At totality, they just stopped. It was very surprising.” According to the authors, this was the first large scientific study into bee behavior at totality.

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