Foraging distances.

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Drone Bee
Nov 14, 2008
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Warboys, CAMBS
Hive Type
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nil bees given away all colonies
What where you taught at your beginners course about the distance bees will fly to obtain a good supply of pollen or nectar?

I wonder if the following will change your mind.

Foraging distances.

I attended a talk by one of our association members to a group of enthusiastic beginners about the distance that bees will fly to find food.

The person mentioned about ?Scout? bees and their job was to find the best possible forage within a reasonable distance from the hive. Distance that was mentioned was ?up to three (3) miles? in any direction. Once a good foraging area was found the bee would return to the hive and dance to indicate the distance and direction of the forage for the remainder of the foraging bees to collect pollen and or nectar.

After the talk I mentioned to the speaker that I was under the impression that bees could travel and have been recorded travelling up to 13km from the hive to gather food for the colony. The ?discussion? of distance was counter productive as the speaker and one other (long time served beekeeper) disregarded what I thought was the distance and refused to even listen.

Undaunted I made a few enquires on the web and came across a very good report by M. Beekman & F.L.W.Ratnieks of Sheffield University.

In this experiment they studied the dances of the honey bees and decoded them to determine where and how far the bees foraged during the heather coming into bloom.
The median distance foraged was 6.1km and the mean 5.5km. Only 10% of the bees foraged within 0.5km of the hive whereas 50% went more than 6km, 25% more than 7.5km and 10% more than 9.5km from the hive.

These distances show a considerable discrepancy from the 3 miles mentioned by the speaker.
It was also mentioned in the study that ?foraging distances may not be exceptional in a patchy environment?. In other words if the forage is found to be better than the surrounding area near the hive then the benefits of scouting bees travelling greater distances will enable the exploitation of these area?s.

It has been reported by Von Frisch that the foraging range of honey bees is up to 13.5km. He was able to train bees to travel distances of no more than 11-12km, and concluded that this is the maximum range of honey bees.
From the report I gleamed that the transfer of information can make the scout bees covering large distances profitable because just one scout bee finding a large patch 10km from the hive could directly recruit the entire foraging force of the colony to utilise and collect the food source.
On the other hand long range scouting could be costly in scout bees as areas of good forage might not be found.
So what do the bees do in situations like described? Do they ?long distance forage? or ?stay closer to home??

I find that just in conversation different aspects about beekeeping will arise and we have our own opinions. Where a controlled study was undertaken and absolute facts emerged why other beekeepers won?t adopt the new findings and let go of the old. At times I find this very frustrating, but that?s beekeeping.

Bcrazy. 23/05/08

From Wikipedia
A colony of honey bees can extend itself over long distances (up to 14 km) and in multiple directions simultaneously to exploit a large number of food sources. 23/05/08
Those distances what you mention, are records, not practical yield distances.

With pollen load bees fly quite short distances, I suppose. I have not seen researches how far they harvest pollen.

One interesting point is, what Australians have reseached, is that if you have 20 hectares rape fields, bees do not disperse evenly onto fields. They like to go to nearest points of field. They do not know that flower far away have full nectar droplets. So you need disperse hives around the field and not put in one point.

In practice I have found that if rape fields situate over 1 km, I will not get a good yield.

The most worse sites are those when bees must fly over corn fields, dry cliffs and over forest and after that they beging to search nectar flowers. You just see that when they return to home, their abdomen does not hang downwards.

Flowers do not exrecete nectar so fast as bees visit in flowers - when you have too much hives in one place..


In Australia they measure the distance on pollination according seed yield of rape. They found that after 200 meters from hives seed measure begin to be lower and over 1000 m bees affect was only 25% that of near hives.

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I believe that if scouts find very good forage 5km away some hives will recruit other bees to collect while ignoring the fact that distance traveled in energy outweighs poor forage 1km away.

I also believe bees will forage over more than double the 3 miles the books say.

I notice National geographic was looking at a study with bumble bees and am keeping an eye to see if they also use honey bees in the future.

R?sum? / Abstract
The aim of this preliminary experiment was to evaluate the effect of distance from the apiary on pod yield in canola. Beehives were used at a density of 1.28 hives/ha. The results showed that the number of pods/plant decreased as distance from the apiary increased, when plant height and branch number were used as explanatory variables. Multiple linear regression indicated a predicted pod loss of 15.3 pods/plant over a distance of 1000 m from an apiary. This was equivalent to a 16% loss based on an average of 59 plants/m2 and average pod production of 5666 pods/m2 from this experiment. For a 2 t/ha crop this would be equivalent to about 320 kg/ha. The results are only indicative because of the variation in the crop studied and lack of replication, but may, in fact, be a conservative estimate.
There is no doubt that bee's can fly long distances to forage, and i know for a fact that they sometimes do,but in most cases i believe they go no further than they have to,and the closer we as beekeepers get them to the source of forage the better they will do. I have bee's in one location where the nearest ling heather source is a good 4 miles and very seldom get any in the supers, yet on a couple of occasions they have filled supers from this source,why not most years? I have large ammounts of hives in the valley where i live sourounded by heather moors on 3 sides,only 1 mile or less,yet get very little ling heather in the supers as i believe the bee's are still finding enough forage in the valley,and will go no further than they need to. Even when they are collecting very little in the valley they do not seem to fly up to this good source of forage. I have to move them 2 1/2 miles in among the ling and they are filling supers like mad,weather permitting,but they do not fly home to there original location, which being as we have allready decided they can and will sometimes fly much greater distances seems strange,that they do not get onto these old flight paths and return home. In yet another location the bee's need to fly 3 miles to ling,and do well on this in most years,filling supers?
Hi Guy's

Glad we all agree about bees can and do fly more than 3 miles to forage.

What I was trying to emphasize was the reluctance to accept new findings over the life long three mile limit. To mention to beginners that the bees only fly 3 miles in any direction to gather pollen or nectar, then that's what sticks in the beginners mind, and because hey were told this by their mentor's or experienced beekeepers then it must be true.
I wonder why there is a reluctance to adopt the latest findings and to asses what it implies and to pass on this information.
Any thoughts?

Perhaps the same reasons why lots of things were written in old books from bygone times,and we now find them to be not true.perhaps in past times the strain of bee's did not cover these distances? perhaps because of modern agriculture,and the need to travel further to forage in some instances.What are your theorys Bcrazy. It was the written word so must be true. wrong.
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[/It was the written word so must be true. wrong. QUOTE]

Absolutely agree.

My thoughts on passage of information whether written or spoken are always open to scrutiny.

If we look back to 15-20 years ago the majority of older beekeepers will have read the books that were right for that period in time. As beginners a lot of that information would have stuck with the beekeeper. During those days the availability of scientific and research papers would not have been available to them. Then once they get into a settled pattern for keeping bees then it?s hard for them to change, and change they have had to because of Varroa. There are still two beeks I know of who pay lip service to treating varroa, that?s their prerogative.

Now days with the w.w.w. available to us all the research and scientific papers are accessible, therefore we can keep abreast of what?s happening in the field of research etc. so today?s beekeeper can have updated information if he so wishes.

When you think about this how many members of your association bother to find out about new findings?

Your quite correct about the changing face of agriculture, as this has a damaging effect on all wild life not only bees.
Bee?s will choose the ?best? nutritional value forage and will be prepared to fly that extra mile or so to obtain it.

Bee’s will choose the ‘best’ nutritional value forage and will be prepared to fly that extra mile or so to obtain it.


I has been reasearched that bees do not know which pollen or nectar has good nutrition values. And I just wrote that bees do not know that if they go to the back edge of rape field, there are flowers full of food. They go to nearer points.

Bees have instinct to gather several plant species' pollen and they balance the aminoacid need with mixture. Even if rape has good pollen values, bees go to fireweed and clowers to bet different scale of pollen, - even if the rape field is endless.
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Hey Finman,

I has been reasearched that bees do not know which pollen or nectar has good nutrition values
Could you please show the research concerning the above statement.

If two separate flowers are placed near each other and both produce nectar the bees will select the nectar with the higher sugar (sucrose) content.

As for pollen I will need to look that up.

If two separate flowers are placed near each other and both produce nectar the bees will select the nectar with the higher sugar (sucrose) content.


There are many flowers where is good nectar but bees do not visit them.
Then there are so much bees in flowers that flower is not able to make so fast nectar.

I did not find easily those mentionings about good quality pollens. I have read so much those reseaches.
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Thank you for those posts, very informative.

I would refer you to The Wisdom o the Hive by T.D. Seeley in chapter 3, The Foraging Abilities of a Colony..

In one of the experiments they placed two containers at different locations but the same distance from the obs hive. The containers had nectar but in one was a higher sucrose content than the other. The foragers came back and did their waggle dance to indicate the better of the two sources of nectar.

. The foragers came back and did their waggle dance to indicate the better of the two sources of nectar.


That is very different than living flowers in nature.
It has been seen too that in same site different hives forage different plants. Why they fly just that way and to another?

Raspberries may be too full of bees. They do not understand to go somewhere else to find better pastures.
Berberis flowers may be full of nectar but no be forage them.
Lupine had very high quality pollen but bees do not know that.

The main point is where I put my hives if I want to get a good honey yield.

Of course we can examine things in threoretical level.
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I think the shorter foraging distance idea may have come from the generally accepted rule applied to moving colonies "3 feet or 3 miles".
This leads to the (wrong) assumption that the bees will not forage far enough from their new site to find landmarks which would lead them back to the old site ie 1.5 miles or 2.4km.
Any other theories?:)
Actually Bcrazy that is not so. I refer to the strength of nectar.

As one of the older beekeepers around, and one with some experience, a couple of thoughts.

The distance bees fly for nectar is pretty much theoretical in the practical situation. You move your bees, if indeed you do at all, and place them to the best benefit for them and you. Under normal circumstances they will fly the least distance to the best profit for the colony.

I have taken off sups of rape honey with half the combs full of hawthorn which was beyond the rape. Hmm...

Bees do nothing invariably.

As for the web being superior to the books please do not fall into that trap as there is some utter and complete rubbish on the web, the same as there are books in that sad state. Read and judge carefully. I would point you towards Manley for instance.

As for it being important that people know there is fresh information, I agree. However with this proviso, only if it is important to my management. And I am NOT placing my colonies 5 miles from the nectar source. LOL
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During last 10 years I have analyzed why the yield difference between hive sites is quite normally
2-3 fold and in worst cases 5 fold.
Before that I explained to my self that reason is weather, dry or rainy.

The explalantion is, how long the bee must flye to get its stomach full of nectar? How long it takes 150 000 foragers to get stomach full and return to hive. It is flying all the time using fuel and getting tired.

But why sites 5 km apart can make 3 fold difference between average yields? You get 40 kg average yield per hive in site or you get 120 kg /hive in another site.

If I have splended situation and perfect blooming stage, I get 60-80kg from rape field in 10 days and that is all what I get from hives during whole summer. If my hives are one mile from rape field, I get 30 kg.

Some facts which folks are not willing to write

* Bee summer is 2-3 months long but the main yield comes from 3 weeks blooming. What are those missing summer weeks?

* Most of summer bees harvest in poor pastures and in low harvest level.
You want to remember only best days and recorsd.

* They fly from flower to flower, and they get not they stomach full.
* They go onto distance areas, they take stomach full, but when they return to hive, their load is very poor.

* Bees seek and seek --> they get tired
* Bees fly and fly --> they get tired
* They make longer and longer searching trips and they cannot return home any more.
* If weathers are good and flowers few, you see how size of colony goes down during one week. Bees fly for vain. Foragers simply die out.

Sad is that you find your mistake too late.
It was only you who dropped hives just in this place.

You find this only when you keep hives in different places.
You cannot read this from books. YOu must read it from your own pastures. My experience is that this is the most difficult job in beekeeping.

I had bees 30 years before I noticed this.

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Beekeepers are glad for wrong things

"Bees were so much that they were 5 pieces per square meter".

--- it tells that there is lack of flowers or too much hives.

"I put 20 hives in one site!"

---- It tells that bees must fly quite far to find full nectar sources.

* 50 years ago it was told that 10 hives in one place is maximum.
* 40 years ago it was recommended that 3 hives per hectare is good measure for rape field.
---- but during 40-50 years the size of colonies has growed 3-fold because of queen rearing.

Given the length of time the honeybee has been in existence, natural selection is likely to have produced a very high level of efficiency in the creature's food-gathering practices, and this would surely include taking into account nutritional values as well as other factors.

However, it occurs to me that the efficiency might not be the same across all food sources, because not all sources have existed for long enough to enable the selection to 'learn' from it.

So when the bee's foraging area includes mostly only long-established plants, a very high efficiency of foraging could perhaps be expected, whereas if newer plants are in the area (eg rape?) efficiency might take a dip because the evolutionery process hasn't yet refined the bee's behaviour.


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