carrying-bees

Can Bees Carry Things?

Bees carry pollen for one thing, but apart from that, bees can carry nectar, water and lipids. They transport all of these between plants and back to the hives for food. But have you ever wondered how much weight they can fly with?

Bees can carry a payload of mixed weight that can add up to half of their body weight.

How Much Weight Can A Bee Carry

Research has shown that a honeybee can carry a maximum volume weight of 15mg of pollen grains, whereas it can suck up to an average load of 20mg of nectar. These are just the volume amounts a honeybee can carry in different trips from one flower to another. In a single year, it is estimated that bees are able to carry up to 130gm of pollen. Apart from pollen and nectar, there are elderly bees that have been tasked to collect water. According to the research, 50mg of water can be carried by bees per excursion. That’s a significant amount when you consider their size!

Bees fly up to two miles to search for pollen grains and nectar. They use their antennae to sense different types of flowers. Bees are good locators of the flower scent and are therefore tuned into detecting the direction of a good flower source with a high degree of accuracy.

7 Facts About a Honey Bee’s Flight

  1. Researchers have estimated that a honey bee can fly a distance of 24km in an hour at a speed of 15mph. While carrying a loaded weight, it beats its wings 200 times which is equivalent to 12,000 beats per minute.
  2. A bee must fly to collect nectar from around 2 million flowers to make 1 pound of honey. An estimation of 556 worker bees is required to gather a pound of honey. They have to fly more than once around the world to gather this amount of honey.
  3. Bees have two pairs of wings that have tiny teeth that lock together while flying.
  4. Honey bees perform their ‘waggle dance’ to share information about their best food sources. Honey bees are indeed intelligent dancers. A worker bee will indicate the direction of the food source by moving in a figure-of-eight and waggle its body when it returns to the hive. This communication helps the honey bee to fly smoothly up to the food source.
  5. A honey bee flies to 50-100 flowers during a collection trip.
  6. A worker honey bee has a life cycle of 6 weeks. Therefore, their flying speed should be fast and efficient no matter how much weight they are carrying.
  7. Bees have a remarkable brain capacity. It has a tiny brain the size of a sesame seed, yet it is able to calculate how much distance it has flied.

Different Shapes and Sizes of Pollen Grains Collected by Bees

There are different types of shapes and sizes of pollen that bees can collect regardless of their protein content. This is because they have pollen traps that automatically stick on their body, adding up to 100mg. These collections of pollen, however, depend on factors such as colony status, color and volatile component. There are also many factors such as a honey bee’s health, the planting area around the apiaries and environmental conditions, which determine the different sizes of pollen to be collected.

Adaptive Flight Features of Honey Bees

Bees are very industrious creatures. No matter their size, they have to work for survival. They have behavioral adaptive features that enable them fly while carrying a lot of things. These adaptations also help them to stay alive, preventing them from being preys. Below are some of the adaptive features.

Compound Eyes

A honeybee has five eyes. Two of them are compound eyes and three tiny ocelli eyes.  The compound eyes enable honeybees to secure nectar from different flower species. It also enables them to differentiate colors, especially the yellow color. Their eyes also help them in their vision while flying at speed.

Pollen Baskets

Honey bees have a special apparatus that makes it efficient for holding and transporting pollen. The pollen collecting apparatus in honey bees is commonly known as a ‘pollen basket’ or corbicula. This part is located on the tibia of the hind legs, surrounded by a brink of hairs. The pollen basket holds pollen in one place, making it easier for the honey bee to fly while carrying the load.

Hind Wing

This part is situated furthest from the head. It enables the bee to fly and grips in a groove of the fore wing. This grip stabilizes the bee while carrying pollen and nectar.

Hind Leg

Furthest from the head, is the hind leg that helps the bee in motion. It has a set of various tools that worker bees use to collect and carry pollen known as rakes, the comb, press and basket. Carrying nectar on their hind legs also enable them to perform quick maneuvers in mid-air.

Colored Body

A colored body enables the bee to camouflage with the environment. This prevents them from being preyed upon. This also enables them to fly while carrying things back up to their hive quickly and efficiently.

Hairy Bodies

Bees have hairy receptacles that pollen is stuffed in. This is why you’ll find half of their body weight in pollen. Their hairy bodies also decrease the surface area to volume ratio that eases flying while carrying pollen.

Honey Stomach

Bees have two stomachs. One of them is also known as ‘hymenoptera’. It serves as reservoir for liquids like water and nectar that are to be regurgitated later on. The other stomach is for eating.

The Hamulus

This part functions as a hook. It links the fore-and hand wings of the bee. It allows the bee’s wings to fly together.

The Process of Carrying Nectar from Flowers to Their Hives

Across the world, there is nothing more comparable to the efficiency of the industry of the honeybee. To make sure that the whole process runs smoothly, each bee has a special job inside the beehive. Bees gather mostly pollen and nectar. Nectar sucked from the flowers is stored in the honey stomach. This will be later on transferred to the honey-making bees in the hive. During its flight back to the hive, the loaded honey bee may fall hungry due to the excess use of energy. She will then open a valve in the nectar “sac” and take a portion of the payload that will pass through to her stomach to be converted to the energy she needs. Once the nectar “sacs” are full, the honey bee retreats back to the hive.

At the hive, the honeybee delivers nectar mouth-to-mouth from bee to bee until its moisture content is reduced from an average of 70% to 20%. This continuous process changes nectar into honey. A bee will work tirelessly throughout her life cycle collecting heavy loads of pollen and nectar then transport it back to the hive.

Challenges Facing Bees While Carrying Things

Despite the fact that bees carry loads of things while flying, before they reach their hives, there are sometimes hindrances that affect them. Their major challenges especially when carrying things are below.

Windy Conditions

In a windy environment, load-bearing bees experience unsteady airflow. This forces them to make small adjustments to their flight paths. Their speed of movement will also slow down. In extreme windy conditions it also causes flowers to wave back and forth. This is another challenge affecting bees as a loaded bee will be trying to settle down on a target that’s moving around unpredictably.

Sickness and Parasites

Honey bees are susceptible to disease causing parasites. This affects their health by making them weak. When bees are attacked by parasites and diseases, they cannot perform properly in their daily duties. This includes carrying of pollen grains and nectar.

Rainy Conditions

Bees don’t like flying in the rain because they cannot navigate in it. They usually use the sun for navigation. Heavy raindrops wet their wings, hence slowing them down. Heavy rain drops can also break their wings.

If you want to see further information on this particular problem, please see our other article here: https://www.schoolofbees.com/can-bees-fly-in-the-rain/.

Pollution

Air pollution is a major challenge to the bees. This includes pesticides carried within the air. Air pollution interferes with the scent trail of flowers. Light pollution can harm them by increasing their susceptibility to predation.

Conclusion

The bee is indeed an astonishing insect. It should be considered as a perfect example of a flying machine. It carries a payload of things half it’s weight while flying despite all the challenges it faces.  There is no doubt that even an extremely built aircraft can only take off with a load one-quarter of its own weight, whereas the bee can remain airborne flying with half of its weight.

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