Despite their small size, honey bees have some impressive abilities when it comes to travel. Bees typically fly 1 -2 miles from their hive in search of things they need. However, they have the capacity to venture much further. The question arises: how far do bees travel? The answer depends on the bee in question and their reason for leaving the hive.
Most of the bee species in the world are solitary insects – they live alone and care for their own young. They do not need to travel very far from home. But, a large colony of honey bees is a bit different.
How Far do Honey Bees Fly from Their Hive?
A honey bee colony is a large social organism that relies on the efforts of thousands of individuals.
It takes a lot of effort to feed all those family members. And, honey must be stored in order for the colony to survive winter.
Because they have a different lifestyle than some insects, the honey bee’s foraging range is large. They will journey much farther from home in search of resources such as nectar and pollen.
Scout Bees Aid in Efficient Foraging
But this effort to look for food costs energy. We drive our cars and must buy gasoline, honey bees need energy too. Fuel to help them fly and gather what they need.
Efficiency is key – not a lot of wasted trips. To help get the job done, some members of a colony are given a special task. A small percentage of field workers serve as scout bees.
They have the unique job of ranging far and wide to find the best food sources. Scouts also have the task of searching out new homes for swarms.
Scout bees will fly more miles than other bees in the colony as they perform these tasks. When they find a good source of nectar or pollen, they return to the hive and the bees dance to communicate the location of resources.
Honey Bee Foraging Range
To understand just how much area the average colony has available consider this: If the colony members forage out 1 mile from the hive in all directions – they have 2,010 acres (813 hs) to explore.
Foraging honey bees can fly 4 miles and in search of pollen and nectar. However, it does reach a point where the effort is not worth the distance.
The energy expended in traveling a far distance would outweigh the benefits of the food. Therefore, the quality of any food source plays a role as well.
Bees will fly to a rich, easy to harvest food source that is farther away rather than settle for a poor food source nearby. Again, this is about making the best use of their effort and time.
It is important to remember that how far bees fly from the hive is not data set in stone. Any numbers related to how far bees travel is only an average. Each colony and it’s foraging situation can be a bit different.
Distance Bees Travel for Food
How far will worker bees fly to gather food? This is a common concern of beekeepers who wish to plant flowers for their colonies. No worries, they will find them – you don’t have to place them nearby.
However, the distance of a food source from the hive does play an important role in colony development.
The closer food is to the hive, the more of it can be brought back in any given period with less travel time.
A health adult honey bee flies at about 15-20 mph upon first leaving the hive. Once she is loaded down with nectar, pollen, propolis or water she will fly much slower – perhaps around 12 mph.
While honey bees can fly a longer distance for food, they usually do not. Most foraging is done within a mile or two of the hive.
Distance Bees Travel to A Pollen Source
Although bees have to capacity to travel a farther distance for pollen – this is not the norm. Most colonies will not need to fly as far to gather all the pollen needed for the hive as they may for nectar.
Perhaps the effort required to bring pollen from a distance far away is not worth the effort? Or maybe it is because though bees need pollen to rear young, they need much more nectar.
How Far Bees Fly for Water
Honey bees need water too! And, much like nectar – they will fly up to 4-5 miles away to find a proper water source.
However, they will gather water from any moist surface – even if the water source is not good quality. This can be a problem if the source is contaminated with pesticides or toxic substances.
This is why it is so important for beekeepers to provide a suitable water source for their bees.
In an apiary with several hives, having a close water source is a big deal. It means that some workers can move on to other tasks instead of putting a massive effort into hauling water all day.
Native bees need water too – though usually in smaller quantities than a honey bee hive. Having a consistent water source in your bee friendly garden is a great idea for all pollinators.
How Far Does a Bee Fly in it’s Lifetime?
In trying to decipher how far a bee travels in its lifetime, we have many variables come into play. The available forage near the hive, weather conditions and the health and age of the foragers all play a role.
In spite of constant attention to the task, an average worker will only make about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. This is why it takes so many individual members to support the colony.
But, if one forager could do all the work – it is estimated that she would have to fly 50,000 – 90,000 miles to make 1 pound of honey.
How High Can Honey Bees Fly?
Honey bees are actually capable of flying quite far up off the ground. The limiting factor would be that the air would become colder at higher altitudes.
Once the temperature dropped too low, she would not be able to maintain enough heat in her flight muscles to stay up.
Also, there is really no reason for the bees to be up there higher than the tallest tree – now is there?
Crop Pollination and Bee Foraging Distance
When beehives are used to pollinate commercial crops, the flight range may take on a special importance.
Perhaps you don’t want hives near one crop- carrying pollen over to the field with another type of the same crop. Migratory beekeepers must place hives in the most strategic location.
Cross pollination is good sometimes but other crops require only pollen from the same field. Not having other crops within flight range also helps to keep the hives focused on the target field.
Pesticide use on agricultural fields must also take bee flight patterns into consideration. The beekeeper providing pollination in a field wants to be sure the farmer doesn’t spray dangerous chemical too near the beehives.
Understanding how far bees fly on average also helps the farmer know how many hives are needed to pollinate a certain size field or fields.
Our bees are remarkable in many aspects. Their ability to fly several miles to get what they need makes it possible for them to produce large stores of honey.
In many cases, the colony can produce enough honey for Winter and some to share with us. But, this hard work is not without risks.
Any bee that travels away from the hive may be attacked by another insect – or even eaten by a bird. It’s a rough life out there.