Science and common myths agree on one thing: bees shouldn’t be able to fly.
We find ourselves chased around our gardens by these aerodynamically-challenged insects from spring to fall.
As it turns out, humans couldn’t understand why bees can fly because they kept thinking about it as humans. Bees don’t subscribe to the human laws of aerodynamics. They have more freedom than mechanical planes, and scientists failed to account for their freedom until recently.
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 bee’s 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 don’t flap their wings faster. Instead, they stretch out their wing stroke amplitude.
It’s akin to switching to a higher gear when driving.
More Automotive Analogies and Ways to Think About Bee Flight
Bees don’t fly like birds. Their wings have little in common with airplanes.
A bee’s wings are flexible, and they can use their wings to create vortices to help them hover, fly, and carry loads. Rather than seeing bees as airplanes or birds, their wings work closer to that of a helicopter. They whirr like little hurricanes, and their wings beat not only up and down but also left and right.
The bee’s flight teaches scientists, and everyone else, a valuable lesson. Just because bees seemingly defy the laws of aerodynamics doesn’t mean everything we know about physics is wrong. It’s a matter of perspective.
Bees Fly, Obviously
The challenge to the myth that bees shouldn’t be able to fly is that they very clearly do take flight.
Bees take a different approach to flight than do fruit flies, birds, or airplanes. Their flexible wings work more like a helicopter, which allows them to get around despite their body shape and the loads they bear.
Having a problem with your bees? Take a cue from scientists: slow it down and try looking at it from a different angle.