Can Bees Fly Backwards?

It can be mesmerizing to sit and watch a bee fly around, and they can even sometimes look like that are flying backwards at times – but can bees fly backwards or is this just an optical illusion?

Bees are able to fly backwards and forward, as well as hover in place- such as when foraging nectar from flowers. Bees are one of a few species of insects with this ability due to indirect flight muscles, in addition to a special muscle called the asynchronous flight muscle, which allows them to fly backwards and hover.

Interested in bees and their flight? Keep reading to learn more about how bees fly!

Anatomy of a Bee

If you think that all insects can fly frontwards and backwards, you would be mistaken. Bees have a special muscle- or group of muscles- that enable them to fly both front and back, as well as hover, too.

Surely you have seen the way that bees hover and linger over a flower or plant as they pollinate; it is their inherent asynchronous flight muscle, which makes this possible.

Watch as they visit a tubular-shaped flower, like a daffodil, and see how they are able to back up, out, and fly away when they are done. Not all flying insects or pollinators can do this.

When it comes to bees, they truly do defy science. They are able to achieve something that not many others can, which is to fly fast and high in their own wake.

This provides momentum and more aerodynamics which help the bee in flight. They can fly in the rain, in high altitudes, or in darkness; they are quite remarkable. Bees spend their lives flying; when they are not flying, they are in the hive serving and protecting their queen, as a queenless hive will struggle to survive for long.

Indirect Flight Muscles

It is Indirect flight muscles that permit the bee to fly in the manner that it does. These muscles are attached to the bee’s thorax, preparing it for flight.

Remember that the bee’s wings are part of the thorax, so this helps the wings to move on command. Different groups of thoracic muscles contribute to upward and downward movement, while other muscle groups control the rate of speed and angle by managing the wing beats per second.

It is the asynchronous flight muscle that is responsible for nerve impulses that control flying backwards and hovering.

Think of indirect flight muscles in contrast to direct flight muscles, which only help to propel the species forward. When used in conjunction, these indirect flight muscles provide the bee with some impressive flying abilities, including hovering in midair or flying backwards, as needed.

A bee flying towards a sunflower plant

Flight of a Bee

Bees can fly pretty fast- upwards of 20 miles per hour in the right conditions! This speed may dip and decrease a little in inclement weather conditions, like chilly temperatures or rain, or if the bee is laden with pollen after foraging and heading back to the hive. They spend their lives flying and working.

Bees will typically stay as near the hive as they can when foraging for nectar to make honey, but they have been noted to travel up to four miles away on their hunt.

They will travel as far as they need to for as long as they can to find flowers for nectar to take back to the hive for honey. Such long journeys can be hard on bees, however, and the stress causes them great fatigue or may even shorten their life expectancy.

Also, when flying in less-than-ideal conditions, like wintry temperatures or torrential rain, the bee’s wings can become damaged. This can impact their ability to fly, forage, and may even lead to the bee’s death.

Bee Flying FAQs

How far can bees fly?

It has been studied and estimated that bees can fly around two miles in any direction from their hive, but some have been observed going up to four miles away.

It should be noted that such long journeys take a toll on the bee, often wearing out its wings and shortening its life.

What temperature can bees fly?

Most bees require temperatures of at least 55-degrees Fahrenheit to fly- and temperatures under 50-degrees can easily kill them. If the bee is going to forage, they will need temperatures of at 66-degrees Fahrenheit typically or 19-degrees Celsius.  

Can bees fly in the rain?

Bees will avoid flying in the rain, but they are able to fly in light rain conditions. Rain makes the bees’ wings heavy, causing them difficulty and fatigue. Heavy or torrential rain can damage the bees’ wings.

How much do bees fly in a day?

A bee will continue to fly and forage as long as possible. The only things that prevent bees from flying are darkness, weather conditions, or when they are busy in their hive.

How high can bees fly?

Bees can fly very high, but usually, only fly as high as is needed to clear obstacles in their way. A far more impactful factor is temperature, not altitude.

How fast can bees fly?

Bees can usually fly between 15mph to 20mph, though if they are carrying pollen back to the hive, they may only fly around 12mph. They will also slow down during inclement weather conditions, too.

Do bees fly at night?

Some species of bees fly at night, usually bees in tropical climates as some rainforest flowers are only open at night for foragers. You can read more about nighttime flying in our dedicated article.

Bees are a marvel. They exceed and are an exception to so many scientific laws of gravity! Bees are one of a few species of insects that can fly backwards- as well as hover in place. This helps them as they do their very important work as pollinators- be kind to bees!

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About Me

Hi, I'm Joe! I'm the head of SEO and content management at Bloom and Bumble. I'm a huge plant lover and over the years my home has become more like an indoor rainforest. It has taken a lot of trial and error to keep my plants healthy and so I'm here to share my knowledge to the rest of the world.

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