why do hone bees hover in one spot

The Reasons Honey Bees Hover in One Place Explained

Among their many intriguing behaviors, honey bees occasionally exhibit a curious hovering phenomenon where individual bees hover in place, suspending themselves in the air by rapidly beating their wings.

This unusual hovering is more than random fluttering though. Honey bees in fact hover for specific strategic reasons important to their colony’s function and survival.

In this article, we will examine the key reasons honey bees engage in hovering or hanging in one spot including guarding hive entrances, signaling food sources, and regulating hive temperature.

By understanding the biological drives behind honey bee hovering, we gain appreciation for these complex and highly social insects.

a honey bee hovers

Honey Bee Hovering as Entrance Guards

A common situation where a honey bee will take up an attentive hovering posture is when stationed at the front entrance of the hive as a guard. Hive entrances are vigilantly monitored and defended by dedicated guard bees.

When on guard duty, worker bees will fan their wings to remain fixed in place one to two inches in front of the hive entrance. This allows them to thoroughly inspect any insects attempting to enter.

Guards will hover with front legs outstretched, prepared to grapple any intruders trying to gain access.

By hovering directly over the entry point, guards can identify nest mates using visual, olfactory, and tactile cues.

Any alien insects can immediately be grabbed and repelled before getting past the entrance.

Guard bees patrolling the perimeter may also stop to hover near the opening when aware of potential threats like wasps or robber bees in the vicinity. Their hovering alerts and mobilizes additional guards.

Young worker bees typically take on hive entrance guarding duty between 2-3 weeks of adult age.

Guarding is their first major task upon graduating from in-hive nursing, grooming, and food handling tasks. Their hovering allows thorough inspection of all entering traffic.

Guard bees exhibit this intent hovering posture whether stationed at the main front door entrance or at any secondary hive entrances.

Multiple entry points will each have assigned hovering guards throughout the day as long as the colony is active.

While individual worker bees rotate through guarding duty at some point in their early adulthood, not all members of the hive can take up this role.

Research shows bees with genetic traits linked to aggression, larger size, and quicker response times are much more likely to become entrance guards.

Their hovering presence provides an important first barrier against foul intruders.

honey bee hovering in one spot

Hover to Share Location of Food Sources

Another circumstance where hovering comes into play for honey bees involves food recruitment through the ‘waggle dance’. This symbolic dance language is used by foraging worker bees to relay information to other workers about discovered food sources and their location.

The waggle dance contains two key movements – a straight forward waggle run done in a figure-eight pattern, with the bee violently wagging its abdomen from side to side to mimic flight. This indicates direction and distance to the food source.

The waggle run is combined with a hover or “dance circle” where the bee circles around to one side then hovers briefly with wings shaking before reversing direction for the next circuit. This hovering helps recruit other workers prior to setting out.

Researchers found bees will more readily abandon a poor food source if few hive mates attend their waggle dance. But robust hovering interaction signals worthwhile flowers.

So the hovering helps indicate not just where flowers are, but that they are abundant and high quality.

The other bees detect key details during the hover and waggle run through close physical contact. Vibrations signal distance.

The hovering bee releases distinctive pheromones identifying which direction to head. Air currents experienced convey what height flowers are located.

Interpreting these intricacies during hovering communication allows recruited foragers to quickly pinpoint the specific flower patch. They can then forage efficiently without exhausting time randomly searching.

So in both the initial recruitment hover phase, and returning with pollen when hovering to unload goods, the bee’s hovering helps rapidly spread flower finding information. This grants the colony vital foraging efficiency.

honey bee hovering near flower

Bees Hover to Cool The Hive By Fanning

Honey bee hives maintain a temperature between 32-35°C year-round to nurture developing broods and ensure optimal colony function. This means bees must act as micro-climate controllers.

During hot summer months, groups of workers will take up positions fanning their wings to circulate air through the hive for evaporative cooling. Airflow also helps cure nectar into sealed honey.

To maximize these cooling air currents, bees will hover in key hive ventilation locations.

Scouts first assess the internal temperature by hovering over brood or honey storage areas. If the excessive heat requires fanning, they begin hovering near the entrance or small ventilation holes.

Stationed air circulation bees hover steadily with wings beating at remarkably fast speeds estimated between 200-400 times per second. This generates sufficient wind speeds of up to 4 miles per hour.

Fanning bees work in profitable shifts of 15-20 minutes before handing off these taxing hovering duties to a relief bee.

Young bees typically take on cooling roles between ages 12-15 days when their flight muscles become sufficiently developed.

If temperatures near the central brood nest remain excessive, bees may install a 6 to 8 inch beard of tightly packed hovering fanners around the entrance. This living mesh of bees beating their wings creates a cooling draft flowing over the brood.

During severe temperature spikes, the entire beard structure may mobilize outside the entrance, forming an external surface of hovering wing beats cooling the interior.

Hovering to Plot Interior Hive Structure

Another specialized form of honey bee hovering happens inside the depths of the hive rather than the entrance. When considering where to begin building new wax comb onto existing comb panels, worker bees perform assessment hovers.

They will hover in place at various starting points along empty comb edges where support is needed for expansion. This allows them to evaluate distance, angles and optimal joining points before laying wax.

Engineer bees also hover over damaged comb assessing how to mend gaps. They may add an interim brace of hovering bees to support broken comb temporarily until repairs are made. Their body provides structural support similar to a carpenter’s bridge jack.

The bees also use hovering vantage points to examine the level and spacing of comb build up over time.

Queens prefer to lay eggs in horizontal combs spaced roughly 1 cm apart. Worker bees self-correct comb orientation if they see it becoming uneven by studying reference points while hovering.

This specialized form of hive inspection and planning hovering helps maintain the impeccable comb engineering needed for colony operations.

Other Instances of Honey Bee Hovering

In addition to the major hovering behaviors covered already, honey bees also exhibit hovering during:

  • Cleansing flights – bees hover a few inches outside the hive entrance to void waste after confinement during bad weather.
  • Queen inspection – workers hover around a queen briefly to monitor her health, typically fanning a small entourage.
  • Heat absorption – workers spread out and singly hover over comb surfaces to evenly redistribute concentrated solar heat.
  • Water collection – foragers hover and skim across water sources when collecting water to spread through the colony.
  • Hive relocation – during swarm relocations, scouts will hover around the new hive entrance to help guide and recruit other bees.

So in summary, hovering plays diverse functional roles for honey bees:

  • Guarding colony security at hive entrances
  • Sharing food location and quality during the ‘waggle dance’
  • Cooling hives through fanning heat buildup
  • Structural inspection and engineering of comb layout
  • Cleaning via cleansing flights
  • Crowd-source heating and water foraging

This wide range of hovering applications makes clear that bees hovering in one place are always doing so for a biologically driven purpose. Their hovering achieves vital colony needs related to stability, resources, and homeostasis.

Next we’ll explore exactly how the physics of honey bee flight allows them to hover on demand.

How Honey Bees Are Able to Hover

Honey bees are capable of hovering in place thanks in large part to their specialized wing structure and flight muscles that enable precise maneuvering. Here’s a look at the biology that gives bees hovering superpowers:

Wing Structure and Movement

A honey bee’s four wings are specifically structured to provide the level of control needed for stability in hovering. The front and back wings on each side can rotate independently of each other.

By controlling the angle of each wing pair separately, bees alter the direction and power of lift on that side as needed for remarkably fine tuning. This allows subtle adjustments while hovering.

The wings stroke in a figure-eight pattern rather than flapping up-and-down like a bird. The angled directional force of these laterally looped wing strokes enables hovering.

Wing strength and flexibility derives from an intricate vein and blood channel system that gives their thin membranes surprising resilience. Each wing also has specialized rows of hook-like hairs that create air vortices for extra lift power.

Flight Muscles and Power

A honey bee’s two sets of flight muscles allow the incredible speed and stamina required for sustained hovering.

The massive main thorax muscles directly power the upstroke flapping motion via direct attachment to the wings.

These muscles contract and relax extremely rapidly – often up to 1000 times per second! This allows the exceptional wing speed needed for hovering.

The smaller dorsal longitudinal muscles control finer adjustments by subtly altering wing angles and direction of force.

These govern the more delicate forward, reverse, and rotary wing motions essential for stable controlled hovering.

Nectar fuel energizes their flight muscles. Bees can generate forces equal to 5 times their body weight during strenuous hovering maneuvers.

Advanced Sensory Feedback

In order to hover with precision, honey bees rely on constant sensory inputs that let them rapidly adjust wing speed, angles and body orientation in nano-second response times. These key senses include:

  • Compound Eyes – provide a wide field of vision to scan for obstacles and orient against air currents.
  • Ocelli – three specialized single-lens eyes detect light levels helping gauge height and position.
  • Antenna – act like aircraft radar detecting airspeed and air pattern changes. Also aid communication between hovering bees.
  • Johnston’s Organs – specialized sensors in each antenna base tuned to vibrational forces and equilibrium. Aid coordination.
  • Halteres – small knob-like organs behind wings that gyroscopically detect rotational movements. Vital for in-flight manipulation.

This sensory feedback combined with fast-twitch muscle control gives bees the flight capabilities needed for all forms of agile maneuvering, including precise sustained hovering for multiple minutes at a time.

Energy Requirements of Honey Bee Hovering

The extreme physical exertion of hovering demands that honey bee’s take advantage of certain physiological adaptations and strategies to conserve energy:

  • Nectar fuel – The main flight energy source is nectar from flowers converted to glucose and fructose-rich honey. A flexible suction stomach stores nectar during foraging.
  • Oxygen boost – To meet hovering intense oxygen demands, bees circulate air through their tracheal respiratory system by contracting their abdomens.
  • Anaerobic power – Bees utilize anaerobic glycolysis through specialized thorax cells to supplement energy production beyond just aerobic respiration. This anaerobic surge provides the intense power bursts and endurance hovering requires.
  • warmup – Short warmup flights get the maximum oxygen and power-generating enzymes flowing through muscle tissues before engaging in strenuous hovering.
  • Recharge periods – Brief hovering stents are followed by minutes of rest to clear out lactate and carbon dioxide buildup and restore fuel reserves.

Takeaways on Honey Bee Hover in One Spot

In summary, honey bees are truly remarkable in their ability to aerodynamically hover thanks to evolutionary adaptations like:

  • Specially structured wings with independent control that can rotate and stroke in figure-eight patterns
  • Powerful dual set of thoracic muscles that contract at lightening fast paces
  • Sensory systems that feedback positioning, air motion, and visual cues
  • Nectar-fueled flight muscles which even utilize anaerobic glycolysis for burst power

This allows them to hover on demand, whether to vigilantly guard the hive entrance, scout optimal comb construction, circulate air currents, or communicate food sources through their symbolic dance language.

Hovering is an essential tool in the honey bee’s repertoire that facilitates their complex social coordination and survival. It provides a perfect example of how evolution has equipped all bee anatomies, senses and behaviors to help maintain colony integrity.

Next time you observe a honey bee diligently hovering in your garden, consider what important mission it is so focused on achieving for the greater good of its hive. Their hovering is far from random wing flapping – it is precision motion with purpose!






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