Bees forage far and wide to collect pollen and nectar from flowers as resources for the colony.
But not all flowers have the resources bees need, so it is also a question of finding the right flowers!
So how do the bees know where to look for these resources, and how do they find flowers to forage?
How Do Bees Find Flowers?
Bees find flowers through scent, color, and electric field emissions from the plants to not only locate the flowers but also identify nectar and pollen resources the flowers have to offer. The bees can also determine which flowers have been recently visited by other bees to avoid wasting energy.
Bees are amazing creatures we, humans, still do not fully understand. Many people consider insects as lower on the intellectual scale than ourselves. However, bees constantly amaze us with their level of sophistication. Their collaborative efforts and individual skills all contribute to the good of the colony.
Finding food and other resources for the colony, such as water, is quite an achievement for a tiny insect, considering the distances they sometimes need to travel from the hive in search of what they need.
Below I’ll tell you how bees find flowers and also manage to find the right flowers to keep the colony alive and healthy.
Do Bees Find Flowers By Sight Or Smell?
Bees are fascinating little creatures that we learn new information about all the time. And they have numerous skills and means to find flowers.
The methods they use (that we know of) are sight and smell and detecting small electric fields that the flowers produce.
Bees Use Sight To Find Flowers
Bees have excellent eyesight, including color vision. Bees can see the color range from the 300 nm wavelength to the 650 nm wavelength. This range means that bees cannot see red but perceive red as black.
Studies have shown bees can see the ultraviolet color spectrum, which humans cannot, and the full-color range, except red. Red flowers often include ultraviolet colors in their petals, making the ultraviolet stand out against the red, perceived as black by the bees. These ultraviolet colors against the dark background act as landing lights for the bees.
The most attractive colors to bees are blue colors, from light blue to dark blue and violet.
But sight is not the only way bees find flowers.
How Bees Use Smell To Find Flowers
Bees can find flowers by the scent the flowers give off and have learned which fragrance leads to the flowers that offer the best resources. Scent travels further than the visual attraction of the flower’s color.
The scent gets the bees close enough to the flowers until the bees are within visual range to identify the flowers.
Each flower gives off a specific fragrance, which the bees have learned to use to identify the flowers that will have the most to offer for the colony’s needs.
How Do Honey Bees Know Which Flowers To Forage From?
There are two aspects to consider about bees foraging in flowers. The bees need to find flowers to access resources. Still, the flowers also need to attract the bees to perform pollination services.
Flowers produce colors, scents, and electric fields to attract specific pollinators. Some flowers prefer butterflies, moths, or even bats for pollination and will create attributes that attract these pollinators rather than bees.
Bees know which flowers to forage from due to the flowers’ attractants, which draw the bees to the flowers.
Other Ways Bees Locate Flowers
A remarkable aspect of how bees find flowers is the use of the electric fields produced by the flowers.
Bees can analyze these electric fields to establish whether the flower offers good resources and whether another pollinator has recently visited it.
This analysis helps prevent bees from wasting energy by visiting flowers that have already been depleted of nectar or pollen.
How Do Bees Know Which Flowers Produce Nectar?
Bee colonies become familiar with the plants in their region and learn which colors, smells, and electric fields represent flowers that contain the most nectar.
Bees’ most common sensory factor in locating nectar is their sense of smell. Nectar and any sugary liquid have an aroma that bees can detect.
This is why bees are attracted to your open can of soda at the picnic table or an open-air restaurant. They can smell the sugar in the liquid over long distances and follow the scent to its source.
How Do Bees Recognize Flowers For Collecting Pollen?
Bees have needs for different amounts of pollen and nectar at certain times of the season. For example, if the colony has a full brood load in the colony, the demand for pollen will be high.
In these instances, studies have found some bees will forage in flowers that have a very high pollen content but very little nectar.
How do the bees know which flowers produce the most pollen? Flowers that produce more pollen can not rely on the smell of nectar to attract the bees.
This situation is where the electric field that flowers produce comes into effect. Flowers that produce more pollen emit an electric field with a specific signature that the bees recognize.
The bees know that if they visit the flowers emitting this signature, they will find a higher pollen source than nectar.
How Do Honey Bees Tell Each Other Where To Find Nectar?
Finding resources for the colony to exploit is only the first part of the scout forager bee’s function. The second part of the job is to navigate back to the hive and explain to the other workers where to find the resources the scout has located.
Communicating this data to the rest of the worker bees will direct many foraging bees to the new-found location of abundant resources.
The returning scout bee with a message to deliver will enter the colony and perform a scripted dance (sometimes called the “waggle dance”). They communicate the information to the other bees about where to find the nectar or pollen.
The scout bee has several dance routines that it performs depending on the food source and the information it wants to convey.
The dances tell other foraging bees the direction the resource is from the hive and the distance that must be traveled to reach the resource. The dancing bee also transfers scent from the flowers it has found to the other bees, so they know which fragrance to follow once they arrive at the resource location.
Science still needs to fully understand bee communication via these dances and what other information is transmitted to other bees in the colony.
The ability of bees to find flowers and other resources, such as water, is a remarkable skill in these tiny insects. Through smell, sight, and analysis of electric fields produced by the plants, the bees are highly efficient in finding the pollen and nectar resources they need.
The communication methods that scout bees use to convey this information to other bees in the colony are highly effective and allow the colony to rapidly deploy large numbers of foragers to exploit a newly found resource.