Tuesday, December 5, 2023

How Do Bees Fly Physics

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Unique Features Of A Bee That Explain How They Can Fly

How Do Bees Fly?

Before we analyze the scientific explanation of a bee’s flight, let us acknowledge what is noticeable when a bee is flying. Has it ever occurred to you to question where the buzzing sound comes from when bees are flying? Well, the buzzing sound comes from the rapid flapping wings of a bee. A bee has two wings on either side of its body. The four wings are held in place by hamuli, teeth-like structures that resemble a comb. This wing setup of a bee gives it greater lift when flying because the wings held by the teeth create a sufficient amount of surface.The thorax muscles of a bee squeeze in two directions, either in an up-down motion or from left to right. The rhythmic movement of the muscles alternates in the same way you breathe rhythmically. The only difference is instead of air being sucked in, the bee uses the motions created by the rhythm to make its wings flap. This motion results in the bee’s wings flapping at a faster rate and finally lifting off.

Bumblebee Flight Does Not Violate The Laws Of Physics

Myth: Bumblebees shouldnt be able to fly.

Theres an oft repeated fact that the humble bumblebee defies all known laws of physics every time it flaps its tiny little bee wings and ascends to the sky. Now obviously this is false, since, well, bumblebees fly all the time and if every time a bee took off it was tearing physics apart, wed probably realize that was the case when two thirds of our population disappeared after being pulled into tiny, bee-shaped black holes. And, certainly if this was the case, every physicist dreaming of a Nobel Prize would be devoting all their time to breaking the code of bumblebee flight in order to disprove some bit of our understanding of physics.; That being said, if you work out the math behind the flight of the bumblebee, youll find that it actually shouldnt be able to fly so long as you dont take into account all the relevant factors, which seems to be how this myth got started.; Basically, if you calculate it all assuming bumblebees fly like airplanes, then sure, the bumblebee shouldnt be able to fly. But, of course, bumblebees dont fly like airplanes.

In fact, the way bees and other comparable creatures fly is so efficient and causes so little drag, that research into the subject has been backed by various militaries in an attempt to mimic this method of flight with our own tiny insect-like robots, which is just a recipe for another Syfy hit.

Flight Of The Bumble Bee Is Based More On Brute Force Than Aerodynamic Efficiency

University of Oxford
Brute force rather than aerodynamic efficiency is the key to bumblebee flight, Oxford University scientists have discovered.

Brute force rather than aerodynamic efficiency is the key to bumblebee flight, Oxford University scientists have discovered.

In recent years scientists have modelled how insect wings interact with the air around them to generate lift by using computational models that are relatively simple, often simplifying the motion or shape of the wings.;

“We decided to go back to the insect itself and use smoke, a wind tunnel and high-speed cameras to observe in detail how real bumblebee wings work in free flight,” said Dr Richard Bomphrey of the Department of Zoology, co-author of a report of the research published this month in Experiments in Fluids. We found that bumblebee flight is surprisingly inefficient aerodynamically-speaking its as if the insect is split in half as not only do its left and right wings flap independently but the airflow around them never joins up to help it slip through the air more easily.

Such an extreme aerodynamic separation between left and right sets the bumblebee apart from most other flying animals.;

Professor Adrian Thomas of Oxfords Department of Zoology, co-author of the report, said: “a bumblebee is a tanker-truck, its job is to transport nectar and pollen back to the hive. Efficiency is unlikely to be important for that way of life.”

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It’s All About Wing Speed

The key is the speed at which bees are able to move their wings. Bees are able to beat their wings extremely fast around 200 times a second! This allows their wings to move the same amount of air as a pair of larger, slowly beating wings, like those of birds and bats.;

An extra benefit to this speed is that, combined with the small size of insects, the air effectively feels thicker to an insect wing. Consequently, when the wings beat, they create complex patterns of vortices around the wing. This amplifies the amount of force the wing creates when it moves through the air.;;This rapid wing movement and resulting aerodynamic trickery explains why insects with such small wings can fly so well.

Bees are able to beat their wings extremely fast around 200 times a second!

How Does This Compare To Other Flying Animals


Birds and bats share the same body architecture as us, as shown in figure 3. To flap their wings, the chest muscles pull the wings forward while the shoulder muscles pull the wings backwards. While these muscles are antagonistic, they do not show stretch activation and so this muscular activity must to be dictated by the nervous system which, as previously explained, is much slower. Bird and bat wings also require more force to move when compared to bumblebee wings as they are much heavier and generate more drag.;The lack of stretch activation and the forces required for movement explains why these animals cant beat their wings nearly as fast as insects do.

Figure 3: Bird wing anatomy

Insects are a remarkably successful group partly because of this biomechanical wizardry that allows them to move their wings so fast, and thereby generate enough force to lift large bodies with comparably small wings.;;It allows them to be incredibly manoeuvrable, and also fly for hours at a time on very limited resources.;;So, its precisely this ability that makes insects so fascinating for us at Animal Dynamics, and such a useful source of inspiration when it comes to designing our vehicles.

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Scientists Say Bees Can Fly

Today’s Bug of the Week has garnered the attention of scientists around the world for decades to see how they manage to seemingly defy physics and take flight.

Colten Friedrich sent in a picture of a bumblebee sitting on his work gloves at a Kelowna-area construction site, and anyone who has seen a bumblebee knows how big the yellow-and-black critters can get.

For decades, it was was widely believed that, according to known physics, bumblebees technically should not be able to fly.

In the 1930s, French entomologist August Magnan noted the insect’s flight is actually impossible, a notion that has stuck in popular consciousness since then.

Basically the wings are too small to carry the bug’s mass, but obviously Mother Nature did not study physics.

A lot of research has gone into how bumblebee’s fly, with scientists in America, the UK and China studying them to see how they appear to defy the laws of physics.

Turns out it’s not the size of the bee’s wings, but how they move them.

The explanation for how they can achieve flight is lengthy with lots of scientific jibber-jabber and terms like ‘plughole vortex,’ so

Bumblebees can grow to 2.5 cm long, but have a lifespan just 28 days.

There are 50 species of bumblebees in North America.

Bumblebees are similar to the honey bees in several aspects. They both have queen, worker , and drone bees in their hives. However, bumble bees, only survive during the warm season.

How Scientists Found Out How Bees Can Fly

Scientists solved the mystery of bee flight back in 2006.

Flight biologists took the time to understand not why bees fly but how they do it. Using hours of footage for bee flight, scientists built robots that mimicked the bees movements. They found that honeybees wings beat faster than they initially thought. The fruit fly, which is only an eightieth the size of a bee, flies with a wing-beat of 200 per second. The honeybee flaps its wings 230 times per second to hover.

The idea was strange. Smaller insects struggle to be aerodynamic and flap their wings far faster than larger ones to stay afloat. And bees have tiny wings with big bodies.

Bees also need to carry heavy loads as they collect nectar. When they are busy at work, they dont flap their wings faster. Instead, they stretch out their wing stroke amplitude.

Its akin to switching to a higher gear when driving.

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What Do Butterflies Symbolize In Death

From our day of birth, we are like the caterpillar which can only eat and creep along. At death, we are like the dormant pupa in its chrysalis. After that, our consciousness emerges from the cast off body, and some see in this the emergence of the butterfly. Therefore, the butterfly is symbolic of rebirth after death.

Whats All The Buzzhow Do Bees Fly

Bees hate physics

Have you ever wondered why you hear bees buzzing? Buzzing is the sound of a bees beating wings. Bees have two wings on each side of their body, which are held together with comb-like teeth called hamuli. These teeth allow the two wings to act as one large surface and help the bee create greater lift when flying.

Bees have two sets of wings, one larger outer set and one smaller, inner set. Image by Julia Wilkins.

In each set of bee wings, the large and small wing is connected with hamuli, which are kind of like hooked comb teeth. Click to enlarge.

In order to beat these wings, a bee has muscles that cause its thorax to squeeze in two directions: both up-and-down, and left-and-right. The bee alternates these rhythmic thorax pulsations, kind of like how we breathe, but instead of pulling in air, these pulsations cause the bees wings to beat back and forth. This also allows bees to beat their wings very quickly and fly.Honey bees can beat their wings over 230 times per second.

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Show/hide Words To Know

Efficient: doing a job or task without wasting time or energy.

Lift: the force acting in an upward direction that helps animals and objects to fly….more

Pulsation: a beating, throbbing, or vibration that is often repetitive.

Rigid: hard and stiff.

Thorax: in general the part of the body between the neck and waist in humans and the central part of an insects body where the legs and wings are attached…;more

How Do They Beat Their Wings So Fast

The next logical question to ask is how do bees manage to move their wings so quickly in the first place? To understand this, we need to take a look at the how their muscles are laid out in the thorax.;

Figure 1: Diagrams showing the arrangement of muscles in the insect thorax. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Crucially, unlike birds and bats, bees have no muscles that attach directly to the wings . The main wing movement is driven by two large pairs of muscles in the thorax.;;Figure 1 shows these muscles: the DVMs run from the top to the bottom of the thorax and the DLM runs from the front to the back of the thorax. When the DVMs contract, the whole body gets squeezed top-to-bottom, and this causes the wings to flap upwards.;;In contrast, when the DLM contracts, the body gets squeezed front-to-back, and the wings flap downwards. This is shown in figure 2 below.;;By contracting at different times, these muscles make the wings flap.

Figure 2: Diagrams showing how the DVMs and the DLM beat the wings. Copyright Animal Dynamics 2019

The main muscles for wing movement are antagonistic and show stretch activation, which enables bees to beat their wings rapidly

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Is It Really Impossible For Bumblebees To Fly

According to some source or other it is theoretically impossible for bumblebees to fly by virtue of their size/bulk/aerodynamic properties. Is this old adage apocraphyal or true? And if its true, how come they do fly?

  • 1$\begingroup$This myth is well known in GB, practically unknown in Germany. For that reason I doubt Prantls role in spreading that myth.$\endgroup$;GeorgMar 31 ’11 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$I really feel like saying “Nothing is impossible with God.” However, a bumblebee flying has absolutely nothing to do with its drag since it isn’t a fixed-wing “aircraft”.$\endgroup$Aug 8 ’12 at 1:00
  • 1

This story may have originated with August Magnan and André Sainte-Laguë. In the forward to his book Le vol des insectes, August Magnan wrote

Tout d’abord poussé par ce qui se fait en aviation, j’ai appliqué aux insectes les lois de la résistance de l’air, et je suis arrivé avec M. Sainte-Laguë a cette conclusion que leur vol est impossible.

First, prompted by what is done in aviation, I applied the laws of air resistance to insects, and with M. Sainte-Laguë came to the conclusion that their flight is impossible.

He is talking about insects, and not specifically bumblebees.

  • $\begingroup$$\endgroup$

No it’s an urban myth. It’s impossible for them to fly using a very simple and inappropriate model of wing behaviour – possibly closer to say that bumble bees can’t glide like albatrosses

I would just like to add something here.

300 flaps a minute)

Bees’ Flight Secrets Revealed

Busting the myth of

by The ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science

Honeybees uses a combination of what they feel and see to streamline their bodies and gain maximum ‘fuel efficiency’ during flight, a world first study has found.

Scientists at Australia’s Vision Centre have found that bees use their antennae as well as their eyes to calculate the best position for swift flight. The discovery could help in the development of robot aircraft, such as insect-like flying machines, say Mr Gavin Taylor and Professor Mandyam Srinivasan of The VC and The University of Queensland Brain Research Institute .

“Honeybees often have to travel very long distances with only a small amount of nectar, so they have to be as ‘fuel-efficient’ as possible,” says Prof. Srinivasan. “They achieve this by raising their abdomen to reduce drag so they can fly at high speeds while using less energy.”

Previous research has found that honeybees use their eyes to sense the airspeed and move their abdomens accordingly, Mr Taylor says. “When we trick a honeybee into thinking that it’s ‘flying’ forward by running background images past its eyes, the bee will move its body into a flying position despite being tethered.

“The faster we move the images, the higher it lifts its abdomen to prepare for rapid flight. However, if we blow wind directly at them without running any images, the bee raises its abdomen for only a little while. This means that they rely on their vision to regulate their flights.”

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How Do Bumblebees Fly

If you spend some time outside in the UK during the summer months, you will inevitably notice bumblebees diligently flitting between flowers to collect nectar, before heading home to their hives or nests. A bumblebees wings seem awfully small for their large body, particularly when compared to a bird, or even to other insects. From appearances alone, you may wonder how a bumblebee is able to fly at all! So how do they manage to generate enough force to lift their body and fly?

What Do The Tiny Tornadoes Do

The leading edge vortices add no strength that contributes to the lift-off of a bee. This shocked many scientists and prompted them to run more tests. With time, they discovered that the vortices give the bee a sharper angle during flight which allows the bee to fly along a sharper route towards the sky. The LEVs also provide a swift airflow over the wings of a bee which indirectly aids in the liftoff.Assuming that a bee was in the air, and its leading edge vortices for whatever reason stopped spinning, the bee would be suspended in the air with no motion. The change in pressure between the underside and the top of the wings that gives it a lift when flying would drop. As a result–we all know what the force of gravity does to objects suspended in the air–the bee would drop. In simpler terms, the purpose of the leading edge vortices is to prevent this suspension from happening when the bee is in the air and thus avoid any cases of a bee falling.

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Bumblebee Flight Defies Physics

A bumblebees body is big in comparison to its wings, and if you really look at how it flies, you wonder how it ever got off the ground. The body is short, stubby and looks plump even though that is mostly due to the hair.

Yet the bumblebee is one of the most amazing flying insects in the world. They are capable hovering like helicopters, and going back and forth, up, and down.

French entomologist August Magnan stated all the way back in the 1930s that the bumblebees flight is an impossibility, and this concept has remained in the forefront of popular consciousness ever since. It wasnt until the 1990s that scientists figured it out.

Michael Dickinson is a biology professor and insect flight expert at the University of Washington. According to him, the question has been resolved as to how such little wings can generate sufficient force to keep the insect in the air. Dickinson can explain the bumblebees physics-defying aerodynamics act.;

This 3:00-minute video by Warped Perception shows us some outstanding bumblebees in flight:

Dickinson gathered data by using high-speed photography of real bees flying, and from force sensors on a larger-than-life robotic bee wing flapping about in mineral oil. He revealed the big secret in a study on the flight of the bumblebee that he published in 2005 in the journal;Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It also has to do with the speed the wings flap at. There are as many as a mind boggling 230 flaps per second.

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