How High Can Bees Fly?

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Bees famously travel far and wide in search of nectar and pollen – and it’s safe to say that very little will stand in their way. But how high can bees fly? What’s more, how high do they fly on average?

Bees can potentially fly tens of thousands of feet up in the air! Research suggests, at least, that they have the potential to live happily at high altitudes. This indicates that some species can adapt well to living in Alpine locations.

However, it’s unlikely that the average honey bee will choose to fly so high up in the air. In fact, many only ever fly as high as 30 meters, or 98 feet above the ground, during daily activities. Even then, that will only be if there’s nectar close by.

Bees can fly higher than Mount Everest – fact or fiction?

It’s fact that certain types of bees can fly at high altitudes, but it doesn’t mean they will necessarily choose to.

According to researchers, bumblebees in particular can fly at an altitude of over 30,000 feet. That is higher than the highest point of Mount Everest, and where the famous ‘fact’ comes from. 

They are able to handle the temperature, wind, and oxygen level changes at such altitudes better than most animals. In fact, the main reason that we find them closer to sea level is that it’s simply closer to the nectar and pollen they thrive on.

What’s more, it’s unlikely that the average honey bee or bumblebee will be able to survive at exceptional altitudes (unless they have adapted to do so). They are at risk of freezing if they’re traveling from afar!

That said, bees are incredible beasts – very few animals can thrive at the altitudes proven by bumblebee studies. Did you know, for example, that bees can hear music, too?

How far do bees normally fly? 

The truth is that, while bees prefer remaining close to the hive, they will travel as far as they need to to get sufficient nectar for themselves, their hive, and, of course, their queen. 

Studies suggest that bees are willing to travel anywhere between one and six kilometers every day away from their hive, but others refute this – claiming they are often willing to travel further.

They will usually build their hives in spots where they won’t have to travel too far from home to find nectar, however, if there are not sufficient amounts nearby, they will happily travel further to get what they need. They usually return to their hives every fifteen minutes or so, however, if they have to go much further, then the time that they spend away from the hive can extend.

On the whole, it’s unlikely bees will choose to travel so far away from their hives unless they have to. It’s another reason why they won’t fly so far up in the air – it’s away from the stronghold of the hive, and when it comes to protecting the queen, the honey bee always needs to be ready for sentry duty.

Why can bees fly so high? 

In order to be able to reach such incredible heights, bees do have to slightly modify the way in which they fly. They rotate their wings during flight, making fast motions back and forth. This enables them to create enough lift to take to the skies.

So, in order to be able to fly higher, one would assume that the bees would simply beat their wings faster – however, bees actually adjust the angle at which their wings beat. Therefore, the wings angle more towards their heads with each flap. Due to this adjustment, the amount of air that they collect beneath their wings increases, therefore generating additional lift.

If you’re attracting bees to your garden, don’t worry – you probably won’t need to crane your neck upwards to see them. They choose to buzz around at waist height or a little higher, depending on where your plants are.

Can bees fly higher than birds? 

Technically, yes, bees can fly higher than most birds and most insects. This is purely due to their flying adaptability, not as a result of choice. At a certain height, the air becomes too thin for most flying animals to be able to generate enough force to lift higher. 

However, bees have an incredible capacity to handle exceptional altitudes and adapt their flying technique despite a lack of oxygen. Therefore, bees can indeed reach heights that most birds and other insects simply can’t. 

That said, it’s highly unlikely you will spot bees flying so high up unless their hives are close by. That, or you are visiting a mountainous region replete with wildflowers and therefore nectar. Where there are flowers, there will (hopefully) be some bees. Bees may flock to you, too, if you look and smell nice enough!

When it comes to bees flying at lower altitudes choosing to travel higher, studies are very much ongoing. However, it stands to reason that unless there’s a promise of nectar high up in the air, bees will prefer to patrol areas they know they can safely pollinate.
It’s all the more reason to set up a gorgeous wild yard with flowers bees love – to keep them coming back to Earth.

About author
Robert has been an avid birdwatcher pretty much his entire life. Living in the suburbs he does his best to bring wild birds into his backyard. He currently has 13+ bird feeders in his yard and also raises and races homing pigeons. Robert writes part-time for Wild Yards, mostly about the subject he cares most about - birds.

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