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Just how far can a bee fly?


You may have read that honeybees can travel up to 5km (3 miles) from the hive, Trevor Monson a pollination beekeeper has described to the NSW Apiarist Conference in Sydney Australia this week how his bees are travelling up to 7.5km (4.7 miles) to pollinate one of the worlds largest sunflower fields.


I googled that very question one day, the best answer I got was “as far as they have to”. Apparently there is a point where it is not viable for bees to fly past that point, but they will continue to do so until they find nectar & pollen closer.


Brother Adam says his native bees used to fly 5 miles (8km) or more to heather, but the Italians never did. How far they CAN fly and how far they fly are two different things. When Huber and later others, took foragers from their hive and marked them and took them a distance and released them they found that all the forages would fly back if they were released within 1 1/2 miles (2.5km) but most did not if release further. This would indicate that the bees know the mile and half radius around the hive well. I think that is about the point where returns start to diminish. At five miles I think it would take a very rich nectar to be worth the trip.


The interesting part of the discussion with the pollination beekeeper was that the bees were kept along the perimeter of this 15km x 15km sunflower field, the beekeeper noted that the bees were pollinating flowers in the middle of the field (7.5km), however there is probably no way to know how many of these bees made it back to the hive.


One way to look at it (anthropomorphizing a bit) is like communters. A lot of people will drive a few miles to work. Some people will drive 30 miles to work. Very few will drive 60 miles to work. The numbers drop off exponentially. Bees foraging long distances don’t get a very good return on the effort unless it’s a very rich source or there is nothing closer available. So how many will fly five miles (7.5km) to get nectar when the same nectar is available closer? Probalby not many. But how many will fly five miles for a rich nectar source that’s not available close by? Probably a lot more. How many will fly five miles when nothing is available closer? Probably even more.