Long-range foraging by the honey-bee, Apis mellifera L.



1. Waggle dances of honey-bees (Apis mellifera L.) were decoded to determine where and how far the bees foraged during the blooming of heather (Calluna vulgaris L.) in August 1996 using a hive located in Sheffield, UK, east of the heather moors. The median distance foraged was 6·1 km, and the mean 5·5 km. Only 10% of the bees foraged within 0·5 km of the hive whereas 50% went more than 6 km, 25% more than 7·5 km and 10% more than 9·5 km from the hive.

2. These results are in sharp contrast with previous studies in which foraging distances were much closer to the hive. In May 1997 the mean foraging distance was 1 km, showing that long-range dancing is not the rule in Sheffield.

3. The observed foraging distances described in this study may not be exceptional in a patchy environment where differences in patch size and patch quality are large. When travel distances to patches are large, distant patches can probably be utilized only by individuals that live in groups and recruit foragers to the patches found. Only then are the benefits of scouting for distant patches high enough to enable the exploitation of these patches.