How Do Bees Find Nectar and Get It into The Hive?

Bees collect pollen and nectar in order to eat and make honey. Nectar is a sweet liquid provided by flowers and is typically in the inside of the flower.  It is the reward the plant provides for the pollinators as a thanks for cross-pollinating them.  Bees find this sweet reward by sight and scent.  The forager bee will land inside or close to the flower and she will extend her proboscis, or tongue, into the right part of the flower.

A bee carrying honey back to the hive
A bee carrying honey back to the hive. Photo by @jmad_images.

How Do Bees Find Nectar?

Honeybees may detect a flower by the reflection of ultraviolet light and the tone it’s emitting to attract pollinators.  Foragers will avoid a particular flower if they smell the previous bee or the flower isn’t making the right tone. This tells the bee to move on to the next flower.  Once bee find the nectar, the bee will suck all of it within reach of her proboscis. If a bee finds lots of nectar, she can carry 2580mg of honey per trip to forage.  Once the bees honey stomach is full, she will fly back to the hive. 

Do They Share With Other Bees?

If the honeybee finds a large amount of nectar, she will dance to show its location and share it with surrounding bees.  If the source is minimal, she will walk in the hive until a house bee takes part of the nectar that she gathered.

The forager will typically give the nectar the three or more bees, who then put it in one of the cells of the hive that contain nectar from the same floral source.  When the forager bee gives nectar to the house bees, the honeybee spreads her mandibles and extends her proboscis to full length. She then sips the nectar from the mandibles from the forager.  

When this transfer occurs, both bees antennae are constantly touching each other, which is a way that honey bees communicate with each other.  The house bee may stroke the forager bees’ sides of her mouth to further stimulate the release of the nectar.  Once the forager bee has unloaded her nectar, she will stop for a little nip of honey before she leaves the hive to forage for more nectar and pollen.

Do Bees Only Look For Nectar?

Honeybees also forage for different things within a blossom such as pollen, propolis, and even water.  The needs of the hive will determine what the forager bee will go after.  Most often, a forager bee will collect nectar and pollen at the same time.

If you want to learn about propolis, click here to read Everything You Should Know About Bee Propolis (I Started Taking It Daily).

In summer, the bees leave the hive, when they are halfway through their lives. Guards, foraging bees, and scout bees gather and deliver nectar and pollen for 4-5 days. Once they finish delivering the nectar, they will actually die. The distance covered in flight determines a bee’s longevity. On average, a foraging bee carries out a dozen journeys per day.

The number of journeys depend on how easy the gathering is and the proximity of the flowers.  A honeybee will forage 5 miles from the hive but burns most of the nectar as energy to fly back home.  So, the closer the floral source to the beehive the more honey the bees will be able to make.  This is why beekeepers move honey bees as close to the nectar source as possible. 

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