The Truth About How Fast Bees Really Fly

Honey bees can fly at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour (24 kilometers per hour) when foraging or returning to the hive with nectar and pollen.

The below paragraphs offer a more detailed look at the topic of how fast bees fly…

Key Takeaways

  1. The maximum speed of honey bees is around 15-20 mph (24-32 km/h) in a straight line, while bumblebees have an average speed of 9-14 mph (14-22 km/h).
  2. Factors affecting bee speed include species, environmental conditions, purpose of flight, age, and size.
  3. Bees achieve their flying speed through a combination of wing structure, muscular system, and flight techniques.
  4. Different bee species can fly at different speeds due to factors like body size, wing size, and wingbeat frequency.
  5. Weather conditions, such as temperature, humidity, wind, and precipitation, can affect bee flight speed.
  6. Bees do not generally chase people, but if they do, running in a straight line and seeking shelter is the best course of action.
  7. Swatting at bees or killing them may worsen the situation, as dying bees release an alarm pheromone that alerts other bees to danger.

If you have ever had a bee chase you, or if you are worried about the possibility of this happening, then you might be wondering how fast can bees fly? You’ll will want to be sure that you can outrun it, after all.

A table with the flying speed of 22 different bee species

While there are thousands of bee species in the world, I’ll provide information on some of the most well-known and studied bee species. It’s important to note that specific data on the flying speed and wing beats per minute of every bee species isn’t always available. However, I’ll give the information I have. So if you want to know how fast can a honey bee fly, for example, I have you covered. Understand that this is a general approximation:

No.Species NameFlying Speed (mph)Wing Beats per Minute
1Apis mellifera (Honey bee)12-20200-250
2Bombus terrestris (Bumblebee)3-7130-240
3Xylocopa spp. (Carpenter bee)20-25Unknown
4Apis cerana (Asian Honey bee)~15Approx. 230
5Apis dorsata (Giant Honey bee)~15Approx. 230
6Apis florea (Dwarf Honey bee)~15Approx. 230
7Xylocopa violacea (Violet Carpenter Bee)~7-10Unknown
8Andrena spp. (Mining bees)UnknownUnknown
9Halictus spp. (Sweat bees)UnknownUnknown
10Megachile spp. (Leafcutter bees)15-20Unknown
11Osmia spp. (Mason bees)15-20Unknown
12Anthophora spp. (Digger bees)15-20Unknown
13Eulaema spp. (Orchid bees)20-25Unknown
14Melipona beecheii (Stingless bees)UnknownUnknown
15Euglossa spp. (Green orchid bee)20-25Unknown
16Bombus lucorum (White-tailed Bumblebee)3-7130-240
17Centris spp. (Oil-collecting bees)UnknownUnknown
18Nomada spp. (Cuckoo bees)20-25Unknown
19Colletes spp. (Plasterer bees)UnknownUnknown
20Lasioglossum spp. (Furrow bees)UnknownUnknown
21Peponapis pruinosa (Squash bee)20-25Unknown
22Apis andreniformis (Black Dwarf Honey bee)~15Approx. 230

Again, this table is a general approximation, and the exact numbers might vary depending on the conditions and the specific individual bees. Additionally, many species of bees haven’t been extensively studied to determine their flying speeds or wingbeat frequencies.

What Is The Maximum Speed Of Bees?

How fast can a bee fly (in mph)? Well, the maximum speed of bees can vary depending on the species, environmental factors, and the individual bee’s size and age. However, on average, the most common species of honey bees are known to reach a top speed of around 15 to 20 miles per hour (24 to 32 kilometers per hour) when flying in a straight line. It’s important to note that bees can fly at different speeds depending on their purpose and situation.

Factors Affecting Bee Speed

1. Species

Different species of bees exhibit different flight capabilities, with varying wing structures and body sizes influencing their top speeds. For instance, bumblebees are generally larger and slower than honey bees, with an average speed of 9 to 14 miles per hour (14 to 22 kilometers per hour).

2. Environmental Conditions

Wind, temperature, and humidity can all impact a bee’s flight speed. Bees may find it more difficult to maintain their top speed in strong winds or when faced with unfavorable temperature and humidity conditions.

3. Purpose of Flight

Bees might fly at different speeds depending on their objective. For example, when foraging for nectar and pollen, they generally fly at a slower pace, allowing them to more efficiently search for and locate flowers. In contrast, when a bee is returning to the hive with a full load of nectar or pollen, it tends to fly at a faster speed.

4. Age and Size

As bees age their wings can become worn and tattered, resulting in a decrease in their overall flight capabilities. Similarly, larger bees within a species may have more difficulty maintaining the same top speed as their smaller counterparts due to their increased body mass.

Here is a helpful table with certain factors that do/do not affect bee flying speeds:

FactorDescriptionExamples/Additional Information
SpeciesDifferent species of bees have different flight capabilities influenced by their wing structures and body sizes.Bumblebees generally fly at 9-14 mph (14-22 km/h), slower than honey bees due to their larger size.
Environmental ConditionsWind, temperature, and humidity can all impact a bee’s flight speed.Bees may find it more difficult to maintain top speed in strong winds or unfavorable temperature and humidity conditions.
Purpose of FlightBees may fly at different speeds depending on their objective.Bees generally fly slower when foraging for nectar and pollen to efficiently search for and locate flowers. They tend to fly faster when returning to the hive with a full load of nectar or pollen.
Age and SizeAge and size can affect a bee’s flight speed, with older bees experiencing decreased flight capabilities and larger bees possibly having more difficulty maintaining top speed.Older bees’ wings may become worn and tattered, affecting their flight. Larger bees within a species may have more difficulty maintaining the same top speed as their smaller counterparts.
HealthA bee’s health can influence its flight speed.Healthy bees are likely to fly faster and more efficiently compared to ill or injured bees.
LoadThe weight a bee carries, like pollen or nectar, can impact its flight speed.Bees carrying heavier loads of pollen or nectar may fly slower due to the additional weight.
Predator PresenceThe presence of predators can influence bee flight speed.Bees may fly faster when a predator is present to escape more effectively.
Landscape and NavigationBees may adjust their speed based on the landscape and their navigational needs.Bees may slow down in more complex environments to navigate more effectively.

How Do Bees Achieve Their Flying Speed?

Bees are fascinating creatures, particularly when it comes to their ability to fly. Despite their small size and seemingly disproportionate wings, they are quite adept at achieving impressive flying speeds. Their flight capabilities can be attributed to a combination of factors such as their wing structure, muscular system, and flight techniques.

Wing Structure

The wings of bees are comprised of a thin membrane supported by a network of veins, which provide both rigidity and flexibility. The forewings and hindwings on each side of their body are linked together, allowing them to work in unison. This coordination enables bees to generate the lift and thrust necessary for flight.

Urban Beekeeping - Managing Hives in City Environments
  • Carter, Anthony (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 194 Pages - 02/28/2024 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

Muscular System

Bees are equipped with two main sets of muscles within their thorax: the indirect flight muscles and the direct flight muscles. The indirect flight muscles, which are the more powerful of the two, are responsible for powering the majority of the bee’s wing movements. They do this by alternately contracting and relaxing, which causes the thorax to change shape and, in turn, moves the wings up and down. The direct flight muscles, on the other hand, control the fine adjustments in wing angle and rotation that are necessary for precise maneuvering.

Flight Techniques

Bees achieve their flying speed through a combination of rapid wing beats and specific flight techniques. By beating their wings at a frequency of around 200-250 beats per second, bees generate enough lift and thrust to become airborne and maintain flight. Additionally, they use a figure-eight motion when flapping their wings, which increases the efficiency of each wing beat.

Bees can also modulate their flying speed based on their specific needs. For example, when foraging for nectar and pollen they often fly at a slower, more controlled pace to ensure they can navigate effectively between flowers. However, when facing threats or returning to their hive, bees can increase their speed significantly for greater agility and evasion.

Can Different Bee Species Fly At Different Speeds?

Yes, different bee species can indeed fly at different speeds. This variation in speed can be attributed to factors such as body size, wing size, and wingbeat frequency. It’s important to note that there are over 20,000 known species of bees, and their flying abilities can vary significantly depending on the species.

Factors Affecting Bee Flight Speed

Body size: Generally, larger bees tend to fly at slower speeds than smaller bees. This is due to the increased energy required to carry their body mass. For instance, the larger bumblebees usually have a slower flight speed compared to smaller honey bees or solitary bees.

Wing size: The size and shape of a bee’s wings can also affect its flight speed. Bees with larger wings relative to their body size can generate more lift and usually fly at a faster pace. On the other hand, bees with smaller wings may need to flap them more rapidly to stay airborne, which can limit their overall speed.

Wingbeat frequency: The frequency at which a bee flaps its wings can impact its flight speed. Some species, such as the honey bee, are known to have a high wingbeat frequency of around 200-230 beats per second, allowing them to reach speeds of up to 15 miles per hour (24 kilometers per hour). In contrast, larger bees like the bumblebee have a lower wingbeat frequency, resulting in a slower flight speed.

Examples of Bee Species and Their Flight Speeds

  • Honey bees: As mentioned earlier when it comes to honey bee speed, they can reach speeds of up to 15 mph (24 km/h) due to their high wingbeat frequency and relatively small body size.
  • Bumblebees: Bumblebees, being larger than honey bees, tend to have a slower flight speed. How fast can a bumblebee fly? They typically fly at speeds ranging from 3 to 6 mph (5 to 10 km/h).
  • Carpenter bees: These large bees are known for their powerful flight and can reach speeds of up to 7 mph (11 km/h).
how fast can a bee fly

How Do Weather Conditions Affect Bee Flight Speed?

Bees, like all creatures, are affected by the weather conditions in which they operate. The flight speed of bees is influenced by factors such as temperature, humidity, wind, and precipitation. Understanding these factors is essential to ensure the well-being and productivity of a bee colony.

Temperature

Temperature plays a significant role in bee flight speed. Bees are ectothermic, which means they rely on external sources to regulate their body temperature. When the temperature is too low, bees become less active and may not even leave the hive. On the other hand, when the temperature is too high, bees can experience heat stress, which can reduce their flight speed. The optimal temperature range for bee flight is between 55°F (13°C) and 95°F (35°C).

Humidity

Humidity affects the viscosity of the air, which can influence the aerodynamics of bee flight. High humidity can make the air more resistant, causing bees to expend more energy to maintain their flight speed. Bees generally prefer moderate humidity levels, as extremely low humidity can cause dehydration and affect their ability to forage for nectar and pollen.

Wind

Wind can greatly impact bee flight speed as it can either assist or hinder their movement. Bees usually fly into the wind when leaving the hive and use it to their advantage when returning. However, strong winds can make it difficult for bees to maintain control and stability during flight, thus reducing their speed. When winds reach speeds above 15-20 mph (24-32 km/h), bees may choose to remain in the hive to avoid unnecessary energy expenditure.

Precipitation

Rain and other forms of precipitation are detrimental to bee flight speed. The water droplets can weigh down the bees, making it difficult for them to fly and navigate. In addition, wet wings hinder their ability to generate lift, reducing their overall flight speed. Bees usually avoid flying during rainy conditions and will stay inside the hive until the weather improves.

Research into the Aerodynamics of Honey Bee Flight

Here are some references to research on the aerodynamics of honey bee flight, incorporating scientific research or studies on bee flight:

  • Short-amplitude high-frequency wing strokes determine the aerodynamics of honey bee flight (Dickinson et al., 2005)
  • Aerodynamics of small flying insects: Mechanisms, challenges, and opportunities (Wang, 2008)
  • The aerodynamics of hovering flight (Weis-Fogh, 1973)
  • Aerodynamics of insect flight (Rayner, 1991)
  • The aerodynamics of honey bee flight: A review (Dickinson, 2010)

These studies have found that honey bees use a unique combination of wing strokes and body movements to generate lift and thrust. Their wings are also uniquely shaped, with a thick leading edge and a thin trailing edge. This shape helps to create a vortex of air over the wing, which generates lift.

Honey bees are also able to change the shape of their wings during flight. This allows them to adjust their lift and thrust to accommodate different flight conditions. For example, honey bees will increase the stroke amplitude of their wings when flying in windy conditions.

Honey bee flight is a complex and fascinating topic. Researchers are still learning about the aerodynamics of honey bee flight, and new discoveries are being made all the time.

Here is a specific example of how scientific research has been used to improve our understanding of honey bee flight:

In the past, scientists believed that honey bees created lift by flapping their wings in a simple up-and-down motion. However, recent research has shown that honey bees actually use a more complex wing stroke motion. This wing stroke motion is called “clap-and-fling.”

In the clap-and-fling motion, the honey bee brings its wings together at the top of the stroke and then flings them apart at the bottom of the stroke. This motion creates a vortex of air over the wing, which generates lift.

The discovery of the clap-and-fling motion has helped scientists to better understand the aerodynamics of honey bee flight. It has also led to the development of new technologies, such as bio-inspired drones, that can mimic the flight of honey bees.

Can You Outrun a Bee?

Bees do not generally chase people, but they might if they are worried that you are a danger to their hive. How far will bees chase you? There are some bees, such as the Africanized honey bee, that are quite aggressive and will chase people for up to a quarter of a mile! How fast can a killer bee fly then (as these Africanized bees are also known as)? Between 12 and 15 mph, much the same as a honey bee.

So, just how fast do bees fly and if one is chasing you, will you have a chance of outrunning it?

If a bee has just left a hive and is heading out to forage, it can reach speeds of up to 20 mph. Once it has collected nectar and pollen, its top speed is more likely to be around 12 mph.

how fast can a bee fly

What To Do if a Bee is Chasing You?

If a bee, or a swarm of bees, is chasing you, it can be very scary. Angry bees tend to give people a warning by butting them in the head or face a few times. If you do not move away slowly, and the bees believe you are a threat, they may then attack. The absolute worst thing to do when faced with an angry bee is to try to swat it away or run about screaming with your hands in the air. These jerky movements may be interpreted by the bee as a form of attack and will make it become more defensive.

Back away slowly, but if the bees continue to come at you, then the best thing to do is to turn and run as fast as you can. Run in a straight line and if you have something to cover your head and face with, such as a scarf or even your shirt, then do so. Bees will target the head and face first.

If you are being attacked by one bee, you might assume that you can just kill it and then the danger will pass. Unfortunately, killing a bee will likely make things worse. A dying bee will release what is known as an ‘alarm pheromone’. This pheromone alerts the other bees in the vicinity to danger, and they will gather forces and head out to protect their hive.

You have probably seen cartoons where characters jump into water to avoid being stung by a swarm of bees. This is a bad idea as bees will just hover above the water waiting for you to emerge again. The best thing to do is to seek shelter as soon as possible. Try to get inside, be it a building or a car. Preferably get into a dark space and leave a small crack in the door. Any bees that have managed to get inside will then seek to get back out to the light.

Here’s a handy table for what to do if a bee chases you:

SituationDo’sDon’ts
Bee is hovering around youStay calm and still for a moment.Don’t swat at the bee or make rapid movements.
If it doesn’t leave, slowly walk away.Don’t panic or scream.
Bee lands on youStay still.Don’t attempt to swat or squash the bee.
Wait for it to fly away on its own.
Multiple bees buzzing aroundMove away slowly and deliberately.Don’t run or flail your arms.
You’re near their hiveWalk away slowly without making any sudden movements.Don’t stand in front of the hive’s entrance.
If possible, shield your face and neck.Don’t disturb or approach the hive.
A bee stings youRemove the stinger gently by scraping it off with your fingernail or a card.Don’t squeeze the stinger or use tweezers, as this may push more venom into the skin.
Wash the area with soap and water.
Apply a cold pack to reduce swelling.
You are allergic to bee stingsCarry an epinephrine auto-injector (like an EpiPen) and know how to use it.Don’t delay treatment if you’re stung and show signs of an allergic reaction.
If stung and experiencing an allergic reaction, use the auto-injector and call emergency services immediately.

Remember, bees typically don’t want to sting or chase people. They usually do so if they feel threatened. Staying calm and moving away slowly is the best way to avoid a bee sting.

How Fast Are Bees – Conclusion

Bees can fly amazingly fast for their size. Those that are laden down with nectar and pollen after foraging can typically reach speeds of up to 12 mph, but bees that are flying out to forage can fly at up to speeds of 20 mph.

Most bees are docile creatures and will only attack if threatened. However, the Africanized honey bee is an aggressive bee and is quick to attack. This species of bee has been known to chase for up to a quarter of a mile.

If you are being chased by a swarm of bees, it is best to run as fast as you can in a straight line and seek shelter as soon as possible. If you are stung a number of times, seek medical help immediately.

Here is our promo video for this blog post. Why not subscribe to our YouTube channel at @TheBeekeeping101.

FAQs

Q: What is the average flight speed of a bee?
A: The average flight speed of a bee, particularly the common honey bee (Apis mellifera), is around 15 to 20 miles per hour (mph) when flying straight to a food source. However, this speed can vary depending on the species and conditions.

Q: How does the bee’s speed compare to other flying insects?
A: Bees are relatively fast fliers in the insect world. While their speed of 15 to 20 mph is common for many flying insects, it’s notably faster than some, such as butterflies, which generally fly at 5 to 12 mph. However, certain dragonfly species can reach speeds of 30 mph, outpacing bees.

Q: Do all bee species fly at the same speed?
A: No, different bee species can have varying flight speeds. While the honey bee’s average is 15 to 20 mph, other species might be slightly faster or slower based on their size, wing structure, and environmental factors.

Q: How does the weight of pollen or nectar affect a bee’s flight speed?
A: When bees collect pollen and nectar, they become heavier, which can slow down their flight speed. A bee returning to the hive with a full load might fly at a pace of 12 mph or even slower, depending on the load’s weight relative to the bee’s body size.

Q: Are there environmental factors that can influence a bee’s flight speed?
A: Yes, several environmental factors can affect a bee’s flight speed. Wind, temperature, and humidity can all play roles. For instance, strong winds can slow bees down or make them fly faster if they’re traveling with the wind. Cold temperatures can reduce muscle efficiency, slowing their flight.

Q: How do bees navigate when they fly?
A: Bees have a remarkable navigational system. They use the position of the sun and polarized light patterns in the sky as primary navigation tools. Additionally, they can recognize landmarks and even communicate directions to other bees through the “waggle dance.”

Q: Is there a difference in flight speed between worker bees, drones, and queens?
A: Yes, there is a variation in flight speed among different types of bees in a hive. Worker bees, which are the most commonly seen, have the speeds mentioned earlier. Drones, or male bees, are bulkier and might be a bit slower. Queens, which are the largest bees in a hive, are not as agile in flight and are typically slower than workers and drones.

Q: How do bees accelerate or decelerate during flight?
A: Bees control their flight speed by adjusting the frequency and amplitude of their wing beats. Faster wing beats generally lead to higher speeds. They can also change the angle of their wings relative to their bodies to control direction and speed.

Q: How long can bees sustain their top speeds?
A: Bees are built for short, efficient flights from the hive to food sources and back. While they can reach top speeds quickly, they’re not designed for long-duration high-speed flights. They’ll usually maintain their top speeds for short bursts, then settle into a more sustainable pace, especially when loaded with pollen or nectar.

Q: How do bees speed contribute to their role in pollination?
A: Their flight speed allows bees to visit a large number of flowers in a relatively short time. This efficiency is crucial for both their role in pollination and their need to gather enough food for the hive. Quick flight speeds also enable them to communicate about food sources with other bees and return to those sources multiple times in a day.

Medical Disclaimer: The content provided in this blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice, or to replace the advice of a healthcare professional. Bee stings can cause allergic reactions in some individuals, which can be severe and require immediate medical attention. Similarly, consuming bee products, including honey, pollen, propolis, and royal jelly, can cause adverse reactions in people with specific allergies or intolerances. If you experience any negative reactions or are unsure about your allergies, consult with a healthcare provider promptly. The views expressed in this article are based on current knowledge and do not cover all possible health implications. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or before starting any new treatment.

References:

https://www.caltech.edu/about/news/deciphering-mystery-bee-flight-1075

https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=10898

https://journals.biologists.com/jeb/article/209/5/978/16690/Visual-regulation-of-ground-speed-and-headwind

Last update on 2024-06-13 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

My new beekeeping book is now available! "Urban Beekeeping - Managing Hives in City Environments"

X
Scroll to Top