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How Far do Honey Bees Travel?

Honey bees typically fly within 1 -2 miles from their hive to gathering pollen and nectar. The area may seem quite vast considering their small bodies.   However, they are capable of much longer flights when necessary. How far can honey bees travel from their hive? As far as they must to gather needed materials for the colony.

How Far do Honey Bees Fly from Their Hive?

Honey bee traveling far to gather food from flower image.

Most of the bee species in the world are solitary insects. They live alone and produce young without the help of a large family.  On average this type of bee does not need to travel very far from home to feed itself.

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They gather needed resources nearby and then make their homes in burrows, plant stalks or holes in the ground.

One example is the mason bee. They gather resources within 100 yards of their home. And they rarely travel father than 300 yards.

Some insects could range farther away, but choose not to do so. The social Bumble Bees are capable of flying a farther distance, but most species forage within a mile of their nest.

A honey bee colony however is a large social organism that relies on the efforts of thousands of individuals to provide resources for the family.  Because they have a different lifestyle than some insects, their foraging range is large.

They will journey much farther from home in search of resources such as nectar and pollen.  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.

Honey bee traveling to collect pollen for hive image.

Scout Bees Aid in Efficient Foraging

We drive our cars and must buy gasoline, honey bees need energy too. And, they want to be efficient and not have 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 foragers serve as scout bees

These workers have the unique job of ranging far and wide to find the best food sources for the bulk of foraging workers to collect. They also have the task of searching out new homes for swarm that will issue from the hive.

Scout bees will fly more miles than other bees in the colony as they scout for food resources. When they find a good source of nectar or pollen,  they return to the hive and dance to encourage other foragers to visit the new food source.

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Worker honey bee gathers nectar from pink flower image.

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.

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 the bees can collect in any given period of time.

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.  This allows the colony to collect more food in a short time because they avoid the 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.

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.

Diagram of how far bees fly from hive for food image.

Foraging honey bees can fly 4 miles and beyond to collect 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. 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 collect 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 to Collect Pollen

Although bees have to capacity to travel a farther distance to collect 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 the pollen needs of the hive is much less than that of nectar.

How Far Bees Fly for Water

Honey bees need water too! And, much like nectar collection they will fly up to 4-5 miles away to find a proper water source.

However, what the bees think is proper may not mean the same thing to us. They will gather water from any moist surface – even if the water source is not good quality.

Honey bees collect water from edge of stream image.

This is why it is so important for beekeepers with beehives to provide a suitable water source for their bees. This helps your colony because the 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.

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 wise bees are remarkable in many aspects.  Their ability to fly several miles to collect nectar or pollen makes it possible for them to produce large stores of honey.  In many cases, the bee colony can produce enough honey for Winter and some to share with us.

But, this hard work is not without risks. Any working bee may be attacked by another insect such as a wasp – or even eaten by a bird. It’s a rough life out there.