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How Far Do Bees Travel? (Scouting for Food, Mating & More)

Bees rely on their ability to fly. They need to fly off to find food, to mate, to spread pollen, to build their hive, and so on.

But how much ground do they really cover? How far are they traveling for food?

Those are some of the questions we’re answering in this article. Read on to find out more.

How Far Do Bees Travel?

Bees can travel quite far, especially when considering their small size. On a single day, they can cover 10 miles, though they usually only have to fly within a mile of their hive.

When it comes to how far they travel in their lifetime, experts estimate that bees can handle 500 miles of flight, before their wings are too worn down. [1]

It’ll typically be scout bees who travel the longest distances. These are specialized workers, sent out by the hive to find the best food sources in the area.

bee flying towards flower

How Far Do Bees Travel for Food?

Bees can travel up to 5 miles for food, but this is rarely the case. Bees will typically have enough food sources within a mile of their hive, making their trips much shorter than their maximum distance.

Bees are essential pollinators, so it’s important that they have food nearby – both for us and the bees. If bees didn’t travel far and wide for food, flowers would wither and die.

How Far Do Bees Travel for Pollen?

Some bees are specialists in gathering pollen from a single plant species, while others are generalists who go to many different types of flowers. 

Depending on where these flowers are localized, the bees will fly shorter or longer distances, though the average foraging distance is 1-2 miles.

honey bee full of pollen on body

How Far Do Bees Travel for Water?

Bees need water to produce honey and to stay hydrated. 

However, it is unclear how far bees travel for this particular resource. 

The general estimate is that bees will fly up to 5 miles away from their hive to gather resources, including water. This totals a distance of 10 miles, 5 miles to get to the water, and 5 miles to get home.

bee on water

How Far Do Bees Travel for Mating?

To mate, queens fly out to find multiple drones to mate with. Queens can fly just as far as regular bees. This means queens can mate with drones as far as 5-6 miles away from their hives.

Drones can of course also fly 5-6 miles away from their own hive. This could result in two bees from hives 10 miles apart to mate.

How Far Can Bees Fly?

A bee’s average flight range is between 2.5 – 8 miles (4-12 kilometers), though some bees have been recorded traveling farther. [2]

However, given that bees are social insects, they will want to stay close to their hives. They typically stay within a 1-2 mile radius of their hive.

Bees have different jobs within the hive. As briefly mentioned, scout bees (bees responsible for finding food sources), will fly farther on an average day than “house bees” (bees that take care of the hive).

Related: How do bees fly?

Bees flying around beehive

Honey Bees

Honey bees usually stay within about 1 mile of their hive. However, some bees have been found up to five kilometers away from their hives.

Different honey bees forage at different distances. There are worker honey bees that collect nectar and pollen near the hive, while scout honey bees go out farther to search for food.

honey-bee-close-up

Bumblebees

Bumblebees are a unique species that can be found worldwide, though they tend to stay in homes. The average foraging bee travels about 0.5 a mile away from its hive, but some have been tracked traveling as far as 4 miles.

bumblebee flying

Solitary Bees

Solitary bees are bees that do not have a hive or live in colonies. They are mainly alone, except for when they mate. Solitary bees can be found across the globe and even in Antarctica.

Solitary bees don’t need to fly very far from their nest, as they don’t have to feed a lot of colony members.

How We Know How Far Bees Can Fly

While bees are very important for our ecosystem, there are still a lot of things we don’t know about them – one thing we do know is how far they can fly.

Let’s take a closer look at a few methods that help us understand how far bees can fly.

1. Using Harmonic Radars

Many studies involve placing harmonic radar tracking equipment on the thorax of bees to observe where different colonies go during their long journeys. 

These radars track location and speed-of-flight, allowing researchers to follow along.

These harmonic radars track flight length, duration, speed, wind speed, and direction to determine how far bees can fly during their journeys.

bee with tracker

2. Homing Experiments

Bees have an exceptional ability to find their way home, almost flying back in a straight line after miles of traveling.

Homing Experiments involve catching individuals foraging honeybees and marking them with paint dots on their thoraxes.

They’re then released at various distances from their nests and observed to determine whether they could find their way back home.

By doing this with the Euglossine bee, D. H. Janzen made a series of ingenious deductions about the navigational abilities of honeybees. The most significant distance he recorded was 14.3 miles (24 kilometers). [3]

He deduced that bees navigate by utilizing the sun and landmarks as a reference point. A bee in flight can see the sun at any time, whether or not it is visible in the direction of travel.

honey bees and queen bee

3. Marking Bees

To explore how far bees can fly, researchers have marked bees and tracked their movements. To mark the bees, a device is mounted at the entrance to the nest, with a small tube that dispenses powder. [4]

Researchers will then measure the distance to the nest, whenever they observe the marked bees foraging.

The only problem with this method is that you’d need to do an extremely thorough search of a huge area to get precise results.

marking bees

How Do Bees Navigate When Travelling?

Researchers have found that bees use several different methods for navigating when foraging.

Bees are incredibly good at finding their way home, almost traveling back in a straight line, even though they’ve traveled miles for food.

One method of bee navigation is to memorize critical landmarks in their environment. To do this, they observe visual cues that allow them to orient themselves in different local environments. [5]

These landmarks can be things like buildings, trees, or even artificial objects. Bees will also use an internal map to establish where they are in their environment.

The sun is an important landmark for bees, and they can determine their orientation relative to it. [6]

Bees also measure the time of day with the sun’s location in their surroundings. Using the information they gather from the position of the sun, they can choose where they currently are, as well as how to get home to their hive. 

This method allows bees to travel long distances between different locations that are far apart without getting lost.

foraging bees

Bees can also use polarized light to help them navigate better. They will take note of the polarized light pattern in the sky. They can then communicate this information to other bees, to show them where to find food. [7]

How Fast Do Bees Travel?

Bees travel at a speed of 12.4 miles per hour on average. They can travel as fast as 15 miles per hour when in danger. 

This has been measured by counting the wingbeats of bees (200-250 beats per second) and putting them through an aerodynamic model to determine the speed.

Bees’ incredible speed is partly thanks to their tiny size. The smaller an object is, the less air there is to push out of the way. 

A bee’s wings are small enough that they have little trouble moving through the dense atmosphere. 

Bees are also very light – honey bees’ bodies are only about 3 grams, only three times that of a paperclip.

a bee flight

Conclusion

Bees travel up to 5-6 miles to get the resources they need, including nectar, pollen, and water. Queen bees and drones can fly the same distance when looking for a mate.

These numbers have been gathered from extensive research on the topic, using different methods from homing experiments to bee marking.

FAQs

How Far Does a Bee Fly in Its Lifetime?

While the exact number is unknown, experts estimate bees to be able to fly 500 miles in their lifetime, before their wings are worn down.

How Far Do Honey Bees Fly From Their Hive?

The distance a honey bee travels from its hive depends on several factors, including age and job. Worker bees, those that forage for food to bring back to the hive, travel as much as 5 miles away from their colonies. These bees can also fly as fast as 15 miles per hour. 

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.