A Flying Bee – Impossible
Golden pieces of light buzzing through the afternoon sky. One of the most engaging characteristics of bees is seeing them in flight. But until recently, the honey bee had a secret that puzzled scientists. Scientists did not understand how this flying bee was possible.
Researchers and scientists make great discoveries and contributions to mankind. And having an inquisitive mind, they yearn to understand “why”.
The want to know that something works but also, why does it work. The puzzle of the flying bee occupied their thoughts for many years.
Researchers could not understand how honey bees were able to fly. The mathematical data of bee flight that could be measured and observed did not add up.
According to known rules of flight, honey bees should not be able to fly.
But, bees did fly and continue to do so, regardless of what science could not understand.
Honey Bee Flight
Honey bees have 4 wings. Two wings are on each side of the bee body. Small hooks called “hamuli” make it possible for the bee to hook the wings on each side together.
When the two wings are joined, they flap together giving the bee more lift capacity.
Muscles in the thorax of the bee cause the wings to be able to move very fast. Honey bees can flap their wings up to 230 times per second.
Why do They Need to Hook and Unhook Wings?
Well, in part, unhooking allows the wings to lay flat against the body while inside the hive. Much like you going inside the house with your umbrella opened up to full size. It just would not work inside a hive of thousands.
Also, being able to unhook the wing pairs allows the honey bee to vibrate wing muscles and generate heat during the winter. This is a key strategy of honey bee winter survival.
A Misunderstanding About Bee Flight
For many years researchers could not understand how honey bees could fly with their small, rigid wings. No matter how fast the wings beat, it would not create enough lift to get them off the ground.
Only in recent years, was the answer revealed. High resolution video was taken of a flying bee. When played in slow motion the answer to the problem was revealed.
Understanding How Bee Wings Move Was the Answer
Contrary to earlier belief, bee wings are not rigid. And, they do not move solely in an up and down stroke.
They are flexible and able to move in a rotating pattern. Instead of beating straight up and down, the wings of a honey bee also make sweeping motions front to back.
A flying bee differs from many other flight patterns due to the short fast stroke of the wings vs a longer slower stroke of other pollinators.
Why Does This Bee Fly in a Different Pattern?
When a foraging bee flies from the hive, she will be light weight and fast. As she gathers pollen or nectar from flowers, her flight weight increases.
At times it is necessary for the honey bee to fly slower as she moves from flower to flower. Honey production requires many trips for nectar collection.
Why Does a Flying Bee Buzz?
The muscles in the spongy thorax of bees allow wings to move very fast. The fast beating wings create air vibrations that we hear as a buzz.
Bees can make a buzzing sound when not in flight too. Bumble Bees often do this to shake pollen from a flower.
Modern technology made it possible to study a flying bee in a way never before possible. Now we know things about bee wings were previously undiscovered.
The special features of bees wings (structure) and the method in which they rotate make honey bee flight possible. Think of this the next time you see a flying bee.