The primary source of food for bees is pollen and nectar, two products that can only be found in blooming flowers. Worker bees are tasked with the heavy responsibility of flying outside the hive to go forage for food on behalf of the entire hive. Sometimes the food source is not near the hive and the bees will have to fly for long distances to find it.
Bees can fly for as long as 5 miles (7.5 kilometers) to look for food. But in reality, bees usually fly for shorter distances around the hive, generally within a 2 mile (3.2 kilometers) radius. A hive with 60,000 bees flies a distance equivalent to going from the earth to the moon daily.
Why Do Bees Have To Travel From The Hive Yet They Have Honey?
If you were to think of it from that perspective, bees would not need to go forage for food because they have reserve honey. But that is rarely the case, actually bees forage for food so as to make honey. Foraging is not done by all the bees, different bees have different roles.
Bee colonies are very heavy on the division of labor. Mainly a hive has three main categories of bees, the queen, drones and workers. The queen seldom leaves the hive. Her main job is to lay eggs that will hatch to become bees to replace the old dying ones and also increase the population of the colony. She lives for up to 5 years.
Drones are formed from hatched unfertilized eggs. They serve only one purpose, to mate with the queen, after which they immediately die. If they fail in their one responsibility, the worker bees will kick them out and they will die of starvation since they do not know how to forage for food.
Worker bees on the other hand, are literally the heartbeat of the hive. They are the machine behind the effective running of the hive. Although smaller in size than both the queen and drones, they are largest in number in any colony and do the most work.
If you have ever encountered a bee outside the hive, chances are very high the bee you met was a worker. The first few weeks of the worker’s life are spent indoors but as it matures and grows in experience it graduates to the most critical work which is foraging for food.
Worker bees live for about two months during the summer season and venture outside the hive on a daily basis to collect nectar and pollen. The colony is continually growing and there are more stomachs to feed. Therefore the worker bees have to work extra hard to keep up with the food demand.
There is not a day the worker bees will have a day off because honey has to be made, especially during summer months before the weather changes and it will be impossible to fly out, leave alone the fact that there will not be any flowers outside.
If the worker bees do not maximize the conducive season, during winter the colony will die of starvation. Therefore, venturing outside the hive is not a luxury but rather a necessity.
How Far Will Be A Bee Travel From Its Hive?
Bees do not mind going very far for the sake of their colony in search of food. Sometimes a bee can fly up to seven times from the hive and back collecting pollen and nectar.
When the bees have not located a rich source of nectar or pollen yet, they can search for up to 100,000 acres around the hive. Once they find a good food source, they will maximize each trip and make several of them.
During her lifetime, a honey bee can travel a total distance equal to making three trips around the earth.
How Far Does A Bee Travel For Forage?
For each trip, a bee can travel for up to 5 miles (7 km) from the hive on the higher side. But rarely do bees travel all that distance if there is a source of food nearby, because the general average foraging area is within a 2-mile radius within the hive (3 km).
Actually the closer the food source is, the more honey your bees will make. If the bees have to spend a lot of energy in locating forage, their effectiveness in honey production is reduced.
The direct proportion that proves the relation between distances a bee has to travel to get nectar and how much honey a colony produces is why beekeepers are advised to provide additional sources of food for their bees if they want to harvest more honey, especially for farmers living in dry areas.
Actual scientific experiments proved that more energy is expended when the bees have to travel more than 4 miles (6 km) and the wings of the bee are worn out hence reducing the life expectancy of the bee. For colonies that traveled less distance, they actually gained weight.
Also, the temperature is a factor in foraging behavior. When temperatures are lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius) the bees were adamant to venture far from the hive.
Scientists also discovered something interesting as far as flying for forage is concerned among bees. A difference in the flying speed when the bee goes out and when it is on its return flight.
Normally, a worker bee flies at a speed of between 15 and 20 mph (21-27 km/h) when exiting the hive in search of forage. However, on its return flight, because it is heavily laden with material, the speed is slightly lesser. It flies at 12 mph (17 km/h).
Can Bees Find Their Way Back To The Hive? How do they manage that?
It is important that the bee can find its way back to the hive after a foraging flight. If not, the entire effort of endangering its life in search of food becomes a waste of time.
Bees have a mechanism within them that helps them find their way home. It is some kind of navigation system, just like a ship at sea has one. You can think of it as a Bee GPS system. It helps them locate their location in reference to the sun and correlate their position and where their hive actually is. Using that information, they can safely return to the hive without any problems.
Basically, bees use the light from the sun to locate their position. Whether the sun is brightly shining or there are clouds, they still are able to find their way. Here is how;
Bees’ eyes are sensitive to polarized light. That means filtered light passing through the clouds even in poor weather. Early research indicates that they also rely on the earth’s magnetic field, but it is still yet to reach an advanced stage.
In addition to their sensitivity to polarized light, the bees have a combination of two types of eyes. The first are compound eyes and they are two with each being located on the side of the bee’s head. The compound eyes help the bee identify its close surrounding and identify where it is. If it is nothing similar to where it wants to be, it keeps navigating until it gets home.
The other set of three eyes (since a bee has 5 eyes) are known as ocelli and are located at the top of the bee’s head. These ocelli eyes on the other hand can detect the horizon and changes in the light spectrum. If the bee notices a change in the horizon, it knows that it is flying down and will rotate its wings to make adjustments so as to keep flying along a particular angled plane so as to fly a longer distance within a shorter time and arrive at the hive as soon as possible.
With these mechanisms, it is almost impossible for the bee to get lost. The bees use a combination of sunlight navigation and internal memory of what familiar surroundings look like to get home.
How Are Bees Able To Remember Where Their Hive Was?
The bees’ ability to recall where their hive was is a valid question given their tiny brains. Bees have a brain that is 1/20000th sized compared to that of a human being. Yet they never lose their way. Some bees are even specialized to fly in low light.
It is even worse when you think about how humans can easily lose their bearing if they try to use a different route from the one they had earlier used. Yet bees fly in the air where there are no clear pathways, but still manage to get home without any challenges for many days consecutively.
You can credit it to the bee’s innate ability, something also replicated in other creatures belonging to the Animalia kingdom. Most animals seem to have a natural ability to recall where their home is despite venturing tens of miles away from it in search of food.
Part of the bee’s innate ability to remember is simply flying the exact same way and in the same direction it took when it was flying away from the hive but now in an opposite sense.
Immediately after collecting their gold (pollen and nectar) the bees turn around and fly back the exact same way they flew while coming to the flowers without any detours.
The bees are so extra such that they will maintain the same flight angle in relation to the sun that they flew in when coming. That way, they will replicate the exact same route they had earlier used and end up exactly where they are supposed to.
To further add weight to this theory, an examination of the communication bees give to their fellows through wiggling dances informing them of where to locate food or water proved that the dances are in relation to the angle of the sun.
Flight angle is not the only way bees retrace their steps, there is also a biological factor to it. Scientists have discovered a gene in bees that is activated causing a kind of recording within the bee’s brain whenever it ventures into a new route so that it will replay that information on its way back.
The gene is also existent in other animals and it is helpful for learning new environments quickly to avoid getting lost. The bees also create a mental image of the pathway as they go along. It is like taking note of landmarks such as trees, rocks, valleys so that it would mark these off on its way back home.
From there, you can see that bees are not only hardworking but also smart too. They cannot be easily fooled or misled from where their hive is even when made drunk or confused by giving them a false sense of time to interfere with their biological clocks.
Such are the amazing things about bees!
How Far Will Bees Chase You?
Bees will travel for long distances in search of nectar but when it comes to defending their honey, they are wise enough not to engage in an endless chase although that is also dependent on the type of bee.
African bees have no limit to how far they can chase against a victim. They will go as far as possible until the threat is eliminated, often that means collapsing from the pain.
Normal bees however, will not bother to chase potential attackers very far. If they turn aggressive and chase after you, they will normally not continue to pursue you beyond 100 feet (about 30 m).
How Long Can Bees Fly Without Landing?
The longest recorded distance that a bee traveled without landing in search of forage was 8 miles (12 km). But that was because the experimenters kept placing the food source further and further away from the bee. In a normal setting, bees only travel a short distance as mentioned earlier in this article.
Now you know more than you did about the flying behavior of bees when searching for food. When you encounter a bee, do not kill it, allow it to return back to its hive, probably a few kilometers from there.