Lévy flight patterns are predicted to be an emergent property of a bumblebees’ foraging strategy

  • Andy M. ReynoldsEmail author
Original Paper


Bumblebees forage uninterrupted for long periods of time because they are not distracted by sex or territorial defense and have few predators. This has led to a long running debate about whether bumblebees forage optimally. This debate has been enriched by the possibility that bumblebees foraging within clover patches have flight patterns that can be approximated by Lévy flights. Such flight patterns optimise the success of random searches. Bumblebees foraging within a flower patch tend to approach the nearest flower but then often depart without landing or probing it if it has been visited previously; unvisited flowers are not rejected in this manner. Here, this foraging behaviour has been replicated in numerical simulations. Lévy flight patterns are found to be an inconsequential emergent property of a bumblebees’ foraging behaviour. Lévy flights are predicted to emerge when bees reject at least 99% of previously visited flowers. A foraging bumblebee can certainly empty a clover flower head of nectar in one visit, but lower rates of rejection are observed for many other flowers. These findings suggest that Lévy flight patterns in foraging bumblebees are rare and specific to a few flower species and that if they exist, then they are not part of an innate, evolved optimal searching strategy.


Bumblebees Emergence Foraging behaviours Heavy tails Lévy flights 



Rothamsted Research receives grant-aided support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. I thank Juliet Osborne and Andrew Martin for many constructive comments about the behaviour of foraging bumblebees.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rothamsted ResearchHarpendenUK

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