How, when and why does a honey bee do its orientation flights?

Let’s start with when do bees make their first orientation flights?

Honey bees like all other animals need to navigate their movement in search of food, habitat, and a mate and to escape from predators. This article will deal only with how honey bees orientate to their home and how they respond to it being moved. Based on this behavior we will try to unravel the sometimes confusing rules given to beekeepers  (by beekeepers) when relocating their colonies.

Age-related tasks of honey bees culminate in foraging, this being the final group of tasks they perform before death. Although the starting age for foraging is variable, it commonly peaks in bees over 20 days of age. At this point, the bees that were mainly nest bound to leave the colony to collect nectar, pollen, water, and propolis so, therefore, need to familiarise themselves with the landscape and landmarks outside the nest and the position of the nest entrance. They do so by taking orientation flights in the days preceding their first foraging flights. Young bees walk out of the hive, fly a short distance in front, turn by 180 degrees so that they are facing the hive, then hover back and forth in arcs. After a few moments, the orientation flight becomes characterized by the ever-increasing circles around and above the hive and after a few minutes, the bee returns to its hive without carrying any pollen or nectar. The orientation flights tend to take place on warm windless afternoons.  Interestingly, on these flights, ‘foragers to be’ take the opportunity to void their faeces, as they had not had a chance to cleanse previously.


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