The Foraging Range Of Bees

Research Papers Investigating Foraging Distances Of Bees

There are a large number of research papers investigating the foraging range of bees, albeit mostly for honey bees, some for bumblebees, and relatively few for solitary bee species. 

Indeed, we know little about the foraging distances of most bee species other than honey bees.

Below is a list of research papers and a very brief summary, but more research into the foraging range of bees can easily be found over the internet.

Foraging Range Of Honey Bees

  • Frisch, Von K. (1967) The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

    The foraging range of honeybees was recorded to reach up to 13·5 km.

  • Visscher, P.K. & Seeley, T.D. (1982) Foraging strategy of honeybee colonies in a temperate deciduous forest. Ecology 63, 1790 1801.
    Demonstrated that honeybees (Apis mellifera) regularly forage several kilometres from the nest.

    Most frequently, honey bees were observed to fly 600–800 meters to collect food.

The mean was 2·3 km and 9% of the colony’s foraging was within a radius of 6 km, but foraging activity depended on the abundance of profitable forage available.

  • Waddington, K.D., Visscher, P.K., Herbert, T.J., Raveret Richter, M. (1994) Comparisons of forager distributions from matched honey bee colonies in suburban environments. Behavioral Ecology Sociobiology 35, 423 429.
    Observed foraging range was 745–1413 metres.
    The mean distance was 534–1138 metres, depending on the hive and location.

  • Schneider, S.S. (1989) Spatial foraging patterns of the African honeybee, Apis mellifera scutellata. Journal of Insect Behaviour 2, 505 521.
    In the African Honey-bee Apis mellifera scutellata, the mean foraging distance was 1200 metres.

  • Schneider, S.S. & Hall, H.G. (1997) Diet selection and foraging distances of African and European-African honey bee colonies in Costa Rica. Insectes Sociaux 44, 171 187.
    Mean foraging distance for African colonies was 1073 metres, and for the hybrid colonies the mean foraging distance was 1387 metres.

  • Beekman, M,  Ratnieks, F. L. W. (2000) Long-range foraging by the honey-bee, Apis mellifera L. Functional Ecology Volume 14, Issue 4.
    Waggle dances of honey-bees (Apis mellifera L.) were decoded to determine where and how far the bees foraged during the blooming of heather (Calluna vulgaris L.  The median distance foraged was 6·1 km, and the mean 5·5 km.

    Only 10% of the bees foraged within 0·5 km of the hive whereas 50% went more than 6 km, 25% more than 7·5 km and 10% more than 9·5 km from the hive.

Foraging Range Of Solitary Bees

  • Janzen, D.H.. (1971) Euglossine bees as long distance pollinators of tropical plants. Science 171, 203-205.
    Euglossine bee Euplasia surinamensis, was able to return home from a distance of 23km.  Some of the bees returning from distances as far as 14, 12, 20 and 23km, returned with full pollen baskets, which of course indicates foraging.

  • I have struggled to find freely accessible papers (i.e. research not behind pay walls) on the foraging range of solitary bees.  However, Goulson in Bumblebee Behaviour And Ecology (page 73) writes a few sentences on the foraging behaviour of solitary bee:

    “Little is known of the foraging range of most other bee species, but those estimates that are available suggest that honey bees are unusual, and that most bees forage over much shorter distances. For example, Melipona fasciata travels up to 2.4km (Roubik and Aluja 1983) and members of the Trigonini over 1 km (Roubik et al. 1986).  Solitary bee species are generally thought to travel only a few hundred metres at most (Schwartz and Jurst 1997).  The maximum recorded foraging distance is 24km for euglossine bees (Janzen 1971).”

Foraging Range Of Bumblebees

  • Dramstad (1996). Do bumblebees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) really forage close to their nests? Journal of Insect Behavior Vol 9, 2, 163-182Three experiments are described that involved marking and observation of bumblebees. None of these experiments showed any tendency for bumblebees to concentrate their foraging close to (e.g. within 50 m from) the nest. The results suggested that bumblebees may prefer to forage at some distance from their nest, although searches up to 300m located very few marked bees.
  • Stephan Wolf, Robin F.A. Moritz Apidologie 39 (2008) 419–427. Foraging distance in Bombus terrestris L. (Hymenoptera: Apidae)
    A study which again using marked bees.  The mean foraging distance of B. terrestris workers was 267.2 m ± 180.3 m (max. 800 m). Nearly 40% of the workers foraged within 100 m around the nest. It is postulated that B. terrestris workers have thus rather moderate foraging ranges if rewarding forage is available within vicinity of the nests. They state that spatial distribution and the quality of forage plots were the major determinants for the bees foraging decision-making, explaining over 80% of the foraging frequency.

  • Ben Darvill, Mairi E. Knight and Dave Goulson 2004 Use of genetic markers to quantify bumblebee foraging range and nest densit. OIKOS 107: 471 478.
    B. pascuorum
    foraged over distances less than 312 m and B. terrestris less than 625 m. They propose that bumblebee species differ greatly in fundamental aspects of their ecology.

  • (Brochure): Conservation and Management of North American Bumble Bees  by  Dale F. Schweitzer, Nicole A. Capuano, Bruce E. Young and Sheila R. Colla; USDA Forest Service and NatureServe
    Downloadable on this link:

    "Although some bumble bees can forage up to several kilometers from their colonies in search of nectar and pollen, most species probably travel no more than 600-1,700m (1/3- 1mi) to forage (Dramstad 1996, Hines and Hendrix 2005, Droege 2008, De Vore 2009).  Presumably shorter foraging trips are both safer and more energy-efficient.  The desert subspecies B. pensylvanicus sonorus can ascend as much as 1,000 vertical meters (0.6mi) on a daily basis in search of food (Schmidt And Jacobson 2005)".


Methods Used To Measure The Foraging Range Of Bees

Gathering reliable and meaningful data is not necessarily easy!  A look at some of the research methods used to measure the foraging range of bees can be found here, and why this question is important.

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