How Far do Honey Bees Travel?
In spite of their tiny bodies, you may be surprised to learn how far bees travel. The area they roam in search of food can be quite vast. This is particularly true of honey bees who range as far as they need to in order to procure the necessary nutrition for the colony. The more bee facts we learn , the more fascinating they become.
Most of the bee species in the world are solitary bees. 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.
Large 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.
Therefore, they will journey much farther from home in seek of resources. 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.
Scout Bees Aid in Efficient Foraging
To help get the job done, some members of a honey bee 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.
Scout bees will fly more miles that other bees in the colony if the search for food takes them far from the hive.
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.
How Far Will Bees Travel for Food?
How far will worker bees fly to gather food? Probably, much further than you may think – especially given their small size.
Let’s think in terms of what makes the most sense, and I truly believe that a hard-working honey bee would do just that. The closer a good food source is to the hive, the more of it the bees can collect in any given period of time.
Therefore, healthy colonies with an abundance of nectar producing plants close by would be expected to produce more honey than those that must fly a long distance to collect nectar.
Just because they “can” fly several miles away does not mean that every bee will do so. Why fly 4 miles away when there is a great food source right over there?
Foraging honey bees can fly 4 miles and beyond to collect pollen and nectar. However, you 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 bee flight data is not set in stone. Any numbers related to how far bees fly is only an average because each bee and each situation can be a bit different.
Average Foraging Range for a Honey Bee Colony
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.
How Far Honey Bees Fly 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.
Perhaps the effort required to bring pollen from a distance far away is not worth the effort? Or maybe the pollen needs of the hive is much less than that of nectar.
How Far Bees Travel for Water
Honey bees need water too! And, much like nectar collection they will fly up to 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.
This is why it is so important for beekeepers with beehives to provide a suitable water source for their bees.
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.
Distance a Bee Travels in its Lifetime
In trying to decipher how far a bee travels in its lifetime, we have too many variables come into play. The available forage near the hive, weather conditions and the health and age of the bee all play a role.
The average worker honey bee will only make about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. This is why it takes so many individual bees to support the colony.
But, if one bee 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, the bee would not be able to maintain enough heat in their 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 Takes Bee Flight into Consideration
When bees are used to pollinate commercial crops, the flight range may take on a special importance. Perhaps you don’t want the bees near one crop- carrying pollen over to the field with another type of the same crop.
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.
Final Thoughts on How Far Honey Bees Travel
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.
When we explore how far bees travel, I find it amazing that this small insect can cover so much territory.