swarm of bees

How Does a Bee Navigate to Find Its Way Back to the Hive?

Bees are truly fascinating creatures, mainly due to the fact that their cooperation skills are remarkable for them to survive and thrive in different environments while protecting their leader, which is the queen bee. Another amazing feat that bees can do is that they can fly back to their hives easily, even if they go miles away from it. How do bees fly back to their hive so efficiently? Let us find out as we take a look at the different aspects of the bee’s navigation skills.

Optical Flow

Bees are able to measure the distance between areas by utilizing optic flow, which determines the position of the image produce and seen by the eyes every time the bee moves. However, bees are experiencing sight in a reverse fashion than us humans, as they would see the environment move rather than them, so it would appear in their eyes that they are standing still while the flowering plants or the hive move towards them. So, through optic flow, bees can measure the distance that they need to fly in order to move towards the hive, and for some reason, they can remember that distance even though they are moving far away from it as they collect nectar and pollen from flowering plants.

bees flying back to their hive

Moreover, bees would also seem to remember landmarks and signs that point them back home towards the hive, although scientists are still unable to find answers as to why they are able to do this amazing feat of memorization despite having a relatively small brain. Some scientists suggest that bees are not remembering landmarks but the scent of their hive, and they are able to get a hold of that scent even from far away.

Other researchers also stated that bees that they will perform a “waggle dance” to determine how far they should fly to get to a flowering plant or back to their hive, and this dance would be seen by the other bees, causing them to follow the bee that performed the dance. In addition to the waggle dance, some bees would also perform a “circle dance,” which indicates that the flower patch is near the hive, so they won’t need to fly far away to get food supply.

Sensitivity to Light

Besides optic flow, bees also navigate around their environment by using their eyes’ sensitivity to light, although the way they see the light through their eyes is different from how we see the light. Even if there are thick clouds in the sky that block’s the sunlight, bees are still able to see it because their small eyes are hypersensitive to it.

They use the sun as a compass to navigate through different areas near or far from their hive, and they will still utilize the sun to find their way back home by memorizing the location of the sun when they were at the hive. Furthermore, bees use their three “ocelli” at the top of their eye that determines the transition from light to darkness once they fly towards a darker area. Also, they utilize their ocelli to detect where the horizon is, an indicator of how far away they are from their destination. Whenever the horizon moves up, the bees will then fly down to compensate for the change in height and allow them to still fly in a straight path.

Because of their sensitivity to light, they see their environment in a blueish color, which indicates that they see the blue end and the ultraviolet side of the light spectrum. Because of this, bees are usually more attracted to flowering plants that are blue or violet in color, although most flowers reflect ultraviolet light regardless of their color, and that reflection allows them to be more visible to the bees. Most bees will often ignore red flowering plants if there are other flowers in the area, as they are blind to the color red.

How Far and How Fast Does a Bee Fly?

According to several studies, a worker bee is estimated to fly at a top speed of 15 to 20 miles per hour, but they would usually slow down to 12 miles per hour when they are carrying nectar or pollen.

As for how far they can fly, a normal or healthy worker bee is able to fly at least five miles away from its hive, although the average distance it takes to get to a flowering plant from the hive is less than a mile. If a worker bee is desperate to get food supply far away from the hive, then it is able to achieve the amazing feat of flying five miles for food.

Those are the different aspects of a bee’s navigation skills, and by reading through those aspects, you would see that the way they find their way back to their hive is very different from how other animals run or fly back home. Some of the bees’ amazing natural features still remain a mystery, but we may be able to unlock a few of their secrets in the near future.