Oct. 10 (UPI) -- Those who watched last year's total solar eclipse from a patch of flowers, or an apiary, might have noticed an eery silence during the brief period of total darkness. During totality, bees stopped buzzing.
A citizen science project led by researchers at the University of Missouri found bees stopped flying as the sun disappeared behind the moon.
The findings, published Wednesday in the journal Annals of the Entomological Society of America, suggest bees interpreted the sudden darkness as nighttime.
"We were fortunate enough to be on the path of totality here in Columbia, and the town went eclipse crazy," Candace Galen, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri, told UPI.
"A lot of people were asking me: How are animals going to respond to the eclipse?" Galen said. "When I think about animals, I think about my favorite animal, bees."
Galen has been studying bees for years, and she and her colleagues at Missouri have developed unique ways to monitor them remotely.
"We use very tiny microphones to monitor the buzzes as bees move from flower to flower," Galen said. "The microphones are the size of a USB stick or flash drive."
One end of the drive is a microphone and other the other end is a data storage component. The device is attached to a lanyard, which can be discretely hung on flowers. The researchers call them "US-Bee sticks."
Galen and her research team partnered with fifth graders and their teachers, who helped hang the recording devices in gardens around Columbia. All of the assistance from young citizen scientists happened before and after the eclipse, but not during.
"We weren't asking them to give up watching the eclipse themselves," Galen said. "Our recording devices really helped us out."
The data recorded by the US-Bee sticks revealed a quieting of bee buzzing before and after the total eclipse. During totality, the microphones recorded near total silence.
"One thing this tells us is that bees can use the ways they operate during their day to day reality and apply what they've learned -- or what they know -- to novel situations like an eclipse," Galen said.
Galen thinks the bees returned to their hives during the darkness. She and her colleagues are planning to test the hypothesis during a followup study -- with microphones placed next to hives to record bees coming and going. The next total solar eclipse in North America will occur in 2024.