Bee Information

What are Bee Orientation Flights?

What Exactly Are Bee Orientation flights?

While the exact time is debated, many believe it to be when the bee starts the foraging phase of its life, just after birth. When asking beekeepers a question, be prepared for a deluge of responses.

What follows is my opinion based on several sources; I’m not claiming it’s right, but I am arguing that it is more likely than not to be accurate.

Honey bee workers only live for about 15 – 38 days in the summer, and during that time, they spend the first few weeks caring for the hive and the final few weeks out in the world looking for food.

As so many variables are at play, including the bee’s diet (in terms of pollen and protein), the precise timing of the initial orientation flights is impossible to predict.

Bees will return to the original hive if you separate and relocate the nursing bees. This finding may suggest that nursing bees remain sedentary and only go on orientation flights once they transition into forager bees.

The Science Behind the Orientation Flights of Honey Bees

Before beginning to forage, honeybees do these exploratory flights to become oriented to the area.

Orientation flights may be broken down into two distinct categories: Unfavorable weather circumstances increase the frequency of short-range flights, which are connected to learning the unique aspects of the hive’s near surroundings. In their short, aimless flights, bees only go up to 30 meters from the hive.

Since bees spent less time exploring the local vicinity of the hive, the length of their long-range orientation flights decreased from the first to the fourth trip. Foraging flights by bees following orientation flights tend to span bigger distances and may encompass a previously unexplored section of the landscape.

After the first orientation flights, exploration and foraging battles may be combined, resulting in lengthy and complex flights. Bees’ navigation is easy since it relies on a few basics, learned sensory-motor processes.

orientation flight vs swarming

Bees, for instance, employ path integration to memorize their routes to and from the hive and foraging areas, use this knowledge with the help of the sun, and calibrate distances with the help of landmarks. If the sun isn’t out, bees may still find their way home by using landmarks as navigational aids.

In his book The Buzz about Bees, Jürgen Tautz writes, “Bees employ earthbound and celestial signals as aids to orient themselves outside the nest, and will make their way from one landmark to the next along each stage of the trip to their destination.

For this purpose, they take advantage of landscape characteristics such as trees and shrubs. Since the bees depart the hive in a little different direction each time, this “orientation flight” serves to create a spatial map of the hive’s position in relation to its surroundings.

It’s interesting to note that most apiaries’ hives will have their orientation battles simultaneously. If there are several hives, the noise level rises dramatically.

Robbing Bees vs. Orientation Flights

Without prior beekeeping expertise, it might be hard to tell the difference between a routine navigation conflict and a robbery.

The bees remain relatively calm during “play flights,” or orientation conflicts. They’re just buzzing the hive and waiting at the entrance. Before starting their career in the field, employees often take anything from a handful to a few dozen play flights.

Robber bees behave extremely differently. When a beekeeper witnesses numerous bees battling at the hive entrance, they see robbery, an aggressive behavior.

Guard bees that are particularly hostile often thoroughly assess each new bee that comes into their territory. A symptom of robbery is the presence of more than one or two bees grappling on the landing board.

Orientation Flight vs. Swarming

Few things are more terrifying to a novice beekeeper than a swarm of bees buzzing at the opening of their hive.

Those unfamiliar with bees can assume that their hive is ready to swarm and abandon their honey because of this. Although honey bees can become hot, what you’re seeing is just an orientation battle. If you know why they’re acting this way, it’s fascinating to watch.

Swarming is a normal part of the life cycle of honey bees. About half of the bees in the strong, healthy hive leave to start a new colony.

When bees engage in swarming behavior, an interesting phenomenon occurs. Even if their old hive is close, they will still reorient themselves to the new one. And it fascinates me that the bees can return to the new swarm hive even if it is moved while they are busy at work back to their original colony that was not far away.

The majority of beekeepers have made the rookie error of moving a colony a short distance and then having to re-establish it. Even when the hive is only ten feet away, they still can’t find their way back.

However, honey bees have a mechanism in place within the swarm that allows them to simultaneously learn a new location while also maintaining memories of their previous hive.

Cloudy Days

Even on overcast days, honey bees can find their way to reliable food sources by following their distinctive dance patterns.

This ability may stem from the bees’ magnetic compass sense, their ability to see the sun or polarized light patterns through the clouds, or their ability to remember the sun’s daily course with respect to local landmarks. As shown in experiments where the two options were compared, the bees’ backup navigational system relies on stored information in their memories.


  • For bees, what exactly is an orientation fight?

When a bee leaves the hive, a fight breaks out as the bees turn and hover back and forth in small circles, seemingly looking for the entrance. After a few seconds, the bee begins to make larger arcs, eventually tying in circles as she flies 15 to 30 feet into the air.

  • For about how long do bees do orientation flights?
orientation flight vs swarming

An orientation battle might take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour before the flying school bees return empty-handed to their colonies. Inexperienced beekeepers sometimes need to understand the orientation flight as a swarming, mating, or robbing flight.

  • Is there a way to coerce bees into changing their direction of flight?

You should block the hive’s entrance before you open it. If you want to block the doorway, put a towel over it or lean a branch against it. With this, the bees will easily adapt to their new home.

  • Could drone bees do orientation flights?

Drones leave the hive in the spring and summer to go on orientation flights and look for mating aggregation locations.

  • How long do bees take to become used to a new environment?

The bees may have to wait longer than 24 hours, perhaps up to 72 hours, before being released. For best results, restrict them for at least 24 hours, but 48 hours is preferable, particularly when combined with the usage of the branches or leaves.

  • When in the day do bees orient themselves?

The introductory session runs from 2 to 4 in the afternoon. In these videos, a swarm of bees can be seen buzzing back and forth in front of the hive, seemingly at random. In preparation for returning from foraging trips, the bees are becoming familiar with the appearance of their hive and its immediate environs.

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