Bee loyal: honeybees exhibit high levels of patch fidelity - study

Researchers observed honey bees and bumble bees displaying remarkable loyalty to the flower patches they visited. However, between the two, honey bee fidelity came out on top.

 A honey bee (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A honey bee
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A study has found that the honey bee is particularly loyal to the patches they frequent. While many animals often return to previously visited locations or specific patches within locations, the honey bee is a particularly faithful creature. Honey bees, the study reveals, are remarkably loyal to their patches, even compared to their cousin, the bumble bee. 

The study was published in Ecosphere, a peer-reviewed open-access journal published by The Ecological Society of America.

For the study, the researchers observed a honey bee species and a bumble bee species foraging on a variety of alfalfa, or Medicago sativa. They marked two hundred and seven individual bumble bees and three hundred and eighty-seven honey bees over the course of the two-year study to observe their behaviors in the same site.

"On average, an individual bumble bee or honey bee was observed more than six times... and [were] observed on three different days," the researchers note. And, ultimately, their data showed a comparatively significant difference between the two types of bees.

Patch fidelity in honey bees vs. bumble bees

In fact, over three-quarters, (76%) of marked honey bees returned to forage at the site where they had initially been marked. This is remarkable when compared with the bumble bee sample, just shy of half (47%) returned to the site at which they had been marked.

 A honey bee landing on a flower (credit: WIKIPEDIA)
A honey bee landing on a flower (credit: WIKIPEDIA)

"Honey bees exhibited greater patch fidelity than bumblebees, and this was true over both years combined and for each year examined separately," they wrote.

Furthermore, for the honey bees, the size of the flower patch didn't particularly matter. While both bee species overall favored larger patches, honey bees were equally loyal to the patches they visited, regardless of the patch's size.