Moving At The Speed Of A Honey Bee


I just heard someone say they were going to make a “beeline” to the grocery store and I wondered how fast a honey bee really flies.

Without carrying a load of nectar or pollen, a honey bee can fly 20 MPH, but on average a honey Bee flies at about 15 MPH.

How far can a honey bee fly?

Honey bees have been found up to six miles away from the hive, however, they rarely fly more than four miles away from the hive.
The average foraging flights usually do not go more than two miles away from the hive.
The longer the flight the less energy efficient the flight is for collecting nectar and pollen.
According to research, a honey bee that flies less than four miles to forage will gain weight while a honey bee that flies more than four miles will lose weight.

What does a Honey Bee use as an energy source to fly?

According to a Michigan University article, a Honey Bee requires carbohydrates as an energy source and nectar is the main source of carbohydrates for honey bees.
The article further states a teaspoon of 50% sugar syrup will provide enough food for 227 bees per day.
The article further states most nectars contain less than 50% sugar.

Is the depletion of carbohydrates the limiting factor in how far a Honey Bee can fly?

Well, it certainly appears the longer the foraging flight the more depleted the Honey Bee will become in bloodstream glucose since the Honey Bee requires 50% sugar concentration and nectar is less than 50%. Eventually, burning more carbohydrates than the intake of carbohydrates will lead to energy exhaustion.
Glucose is the end product of carbohydrate digestion processing.

What about using body fat as an energy source?

Honey Bees do have body fat. They have more body fat in the winter than they have in the summer.
The fact that foraging Honey Bees flying more than four miles from the hive lose weight suggests Honey Bees also use body fat as an energy source for flight.
In fact, a recent Ph.D. thesis I have become aware of states that the varroa mite, a long-recognized pathogen for Honey Bee larva in the hives, has a much different mechanism of injury that the previous hypothesis for the adult foraging worker bee. The varroa mite robs the adult foraging Honey Bee of its energy.

How does the varroa mite rob the Honey Bee of energy?

The varroa mite has long been known to be destructive to the hive by entering the brood chamber and laying eggs in the brood cell before it is capped. The varroa mite eggs hatch and essentially eat the developing Honey Bee larva before it hatches.
But how does it rob the adult Honey Bee worker of energy?
It has long been postulated that the varroa mite attaches itself to the worker bee and sucks its blood. Certainly, having less blood means less sugar available to the Honey Bee, and that could still be true.
However, the recent Ph.D. thesis previous referenced has demonstrated the varroa mite actually eats the Honey Bee’s body fat, this was demonstrated by bee body dissection where gaping holes were observed in the Honey Bee’s body fat where the varroa mite had attached.
This thesis is developing a new hypothesis. It believes the Honey Bee uses all the glucose in the bloodstream while foraging and draws additional energy from the body fat to complete the foraging trip,
It hypothesizes the Honey Bee does not realize it does not have the normal reserves of fat to draw upon to complete the foraging trip, and as a result runs out of energy before it can reach the hive on the return trip.
This thesis further hypothesize this is the cause of the current Honey Bee Hive Collapse phenomena that has caught the attention of everyone over the past few years.

How many miles a day does a worker Honey Bee fly?

A worker Honey Bee, during the spring and fall nectar flows, will make about 12 foraging trips a day.
The average foraging flight distance away from the hive is about 2 miles, less if the nectar or pollen source is closer to the hive.
So it would be safe to say the average number of miles a worker bee would fly during nectar flow would be about 48 miles.

How do scout bees relay the location of newly discovered nectar source to other worker bees?

Newly found nectar source location is communicated to other worker bees upon return to the hive by the scout bee through a ritual the scout bee performs called the “waggle dance”.
The waggle dance is performed in a figure 8 pattern accompanied by audible buzzing sound created by rapid wing motion in the long run phase of the dance. The waggle dance is performed for several minutes.
Additional information is obtained by other worker bees by touching their antenna against the body of the scout bee to detect the specific flower pollen and by tasting regurgitation of gathered nectar by the scout bee to identify the flower source more definitively.

How fast do Honey Bee wings move?

According to the California Institute of Technology, Honey Bee’s wing stoke beats are 230 strokes per second.
So one foraging trip for a worker bee at a distance 2 miles from the hive flying at 15 MPH would take 8 minutes. That would be 110,400 wing strokes for one foraging trip to and from the hive.
At 12 trips per day average that would be 1,324,800 wing strokes a day just getting to and from the hive.
And that does not take into account the hovering she will do while collecting nectar from the 600 to 1,200 flowers she will visit that day!
No wonder they wear their wings out in about 5 weeks!

How many wings does a honey bee have?

All Honey Bees have 4 wings that un-couple at rest but re-couple at wing-spread with a hook/loop mechanism allowing the wings to function as a pair of wings.

Where does the Honey Bee store the nectar and pollen on their foraging flights?

The Honey Bee collects nectar by inserting her tongue into a flower’s nectar at the bottom of the flower’s bloom.
The amount of nectar that can be extracted depends on the depth of the flower’s bloom and the length of the worker bee’s tongue. She will consume as much from each flower as she can.
The nectar is sucked into an internal organ called the “honey stomach”. There it is mixed with enzymes on her way back to the hive where she passes this mixture off to other hive bees for dehydration and storage. She then begins another trip to the nectar source.

Pollen is collected in two ways:

  • As she is collecting nectar or pollen, some pollen sticks to the hairs on her body. This pollen fertilizes other flowers as she moves from flower to flower. Upon return to the hive, any pollen still stuck to her body hairs are gleaned by other hive bees and stored.
  • She also collects pollen intentionally and stores in pockets on her hind legs for transportation. She passes this harvest off to other hive bees as well on her return trip to the hive. The hive bees store the collected pollen in sealed beehive chambers for use later as a food source.
How much effort is required of Honey Bees to make a pound of honey?

Worker Honey Bees must fly a distance of more than twice around the world and collect nectar from as many as 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey.

How much honey does a Honey Bee hive produce annually?

An average Honey Bee hive will make about 200 pounds of honey annually.
That would require the worker bees to visit 400 million flowers for nectar and fly 11 million miles.
That is impressive!

How much does honey weigh?
  • One teaspoon of honey weighs one-quarter of an ounce.
  • One cup of honey weighs 12.5 ounces.
  • One pint of honey weighs 1 pound and 7.7 ounces.
  • One quart of honey weighs 2 pounds and 15 ounces.
  • One gallon of honey weighs 12 pounds.
So what does “I’m going to make a beeline to the grocery store” actually mean?

Well, since Honey Bees fly in a straight line to the nectar source, that part won’t apply. There is no navigation strategy that will get you to the grocery store in a straight line.
And since I’m assuming you will be driving to the grocery store at a speed greater than 15 MPH, that would not reconcile with the common conception the phase above implies, “speedy”. That part of a “bee-line” would not apply either.
My final thoughts on this matter: This must be an oxymoron.
I’m hoping this shopper, on the way to the grocery store, at least buys some honey 🙂

How much is the shopper going to pay when honey is purchased?

At the grocery store, the shopper will pay about $10 per pound for honey commercially produced, however many aficionados do not consider these products to truly be honey.
Honey locally produced can range up to in excess of $20 a pound with blackberry honey usually commanding the highest priced honey.
There are many benefits to locally produced honey over commercially produced honey including some desensitization to local pollens that can produce allergic reactions such as hay fever.

Honey Bees are a unique breed of insect.
They are the only insect that makes a product humans consume!

Happy Beekeeping

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