How high above ground level can bees fly?

12 October 2008

BEE-COLLECTING-POLLEN

Bee collecting pollen

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Question

How high above ground level can bees fly?

Answer

Dave - I think there's a big difference between how high bees can fly and how high they bother to fly. There's not a lot of point in a bee flying more than a few hundred feet above the ground.

Chris - They can't bee bothered?

Dave - ...Because all their food is on the ground where they live. There's not a lot for them up high. You can find bees several thousand metres up in the Himalayas and they're flying around there. They're quite happy flying there. I think the biggest constraint is the temperature. The inside of a bee reaches nearly 50 degrees centigrade because it's using lots of energy, all the chemical reactions happen very quickly inside it. It needs to be very hot. As soon as the temperature drops they don't happen fast enough. The bee can't flap its wings fast enough so it'll fall out of the sky. I think the biggest limiting factor is temperature rather than the altitude.

Comments

Our youth program has been growing vegetables on our 14th floor terrace in the middle of New York City. We are about to move to the 21st floor several blocks away and I'm afraid that bees won't find us. Before I invest in fruit trees and vegetables, any advice?

Not all plants rely on bees (and other pollinating insects) for pollination: some are wind pollinated, like sweetcord, and others self-pollinate, like lettuces. You could therefore hedge your bets and plant a mixture of wind-pollinated, self-pollinated and insect pollinated species, and then if the insects struggle to make it to the 21st floor, you'll still have produce!

No one answered this question

As pointed out above, bees are capable of flying at very high altitudes, including the equivalent of the altitude of Mt Everest, but they don't because they need to remain warm, close to home and close to food. But there is no reason, from a physics perspective, why they cannot fly at very great altitude:

http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/10/2/20130922

I live on the 8th floor in a condo, I bought a Spanish lavender plant will it attract bees at this height ?

We live on the fifth floor and the flowers on our balcony does not seem to attract any insects whatsoever.

The reason could bee
a. You just don't have enough there for them to be bothered with or
b. Your plants don't require pollination or give anything the girls want to take back to the hive.

If you were looking for water because you had to stock up for a bad hurricane and saw to your right, 500 cases of bottled water and to your left, only 1 bottle (if you even saw it) you would go to the right. Also they stay more to the ground as that's where their food source is. If you look out your window and there's a hill to the same height as your floor, with binoculars you may see bees buzzin around those flowers, but that's because they're close to the ground or may be a tree where it's like a supermarket so they'll fly up to the top. If everyone in your building had plants the bees like on their balconies then most likely you would get the bees and other pollinators.

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