How Bees Fly: Exploring the Physics Behind Their Flight

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In summary, there was a popular belief that bumblebees cannot fly due to the small surface area of their wings and their heavy weight. However, recent studies have shown that this belief is false. Bumblebees do not flap their wings up and down like birds, but rather move them back and forth, making the traditional lift formula invalid for their flight. Additionally, studies have shown that bumblebees are able to generate enough lift to compensate for their weight. So, while a simple mathematical model may have suggested that bumblebees cannot fly, further research has proven this to be incorrect.
  • #1
we all have heard about this conundrum,about the bees can't fly because of the whole small surface area of the wings and greater weight than the lift achieved thing.However,there were some articles that I read that this question had been solved, that bees don't flap their wings up and down, they rather move them back and forth, so the general lift formula,L=CL½ρv^2A can't be applied.So, even by moving their wings in such an action, how do they really create so much lift to compensate for their relatively high mass?(try explaining both with text and numerically whenever possible)
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  • #3
Here is a link to some articles (downloadable!) from a friend of mine who studies this stuff at Stanford. He has his own lab there and he trains birds to fly in wind tunnels, but he also studies insect flight and miniature flapping-wing robot flies.
  • #4
Thanks bystander and bigfooted!
  • #5

Selected quotes..

Scientists once proved that bumblebees can't fly.

The lift equations for rigid wings are straightforward enough. Bumble-bees are fairly big, weighing almost a gram, and have a wing area of about a square centimetre.Tot up all the figures and you find that bees cannot generate enough lift at their typical flying speed of about 1 ms.

But that doesn't prove that bees cannot fly. All it proves is that bees with smooth, rigid wings cannot glide, which you can show for yourself with a few dead bees and a little lacquer.

So, no one "proved" that a bumblebee can't fly. What was shown was that a certain simple mathematical model wasn't adequate or appropriate for describing the flight of a bumblebee.
  • #6
My language skills aren't particularly impressive, however, when going through the "original" article detailing the aerodynamic "analysis" in the original French, I got the impression the "PI" was being deliberately whimsical. Peer reviewed journals aren't written, edited, published, or to be read for entertainment**, leaving an impression at the time that the conclusion (among others in the paper) that bumblebees can't fly was a serious application of aerodynamics, rather than a bon mot inserted on a whim.

** Excepting the notably humorous works of Lysenko, Pons & Fleischman, Hoagland and the Cydonauts, plus assorted lesser lights.
  • #7

1. How do bees fly?

Bees fly by beating their wings in a figure-eight pattern, which creates lift and allows them to stay in the air.

2. What is the physics behind bee flight?

The main principle behind bee flight is Bernoulli's principle, which states that as air moves faster, the pressure decreases. The beating of the bee's wings creates faster air movement above the wing, resulting in lower pressure and allowing the bee to fly.

3. Can bees fly in any direction?

Yes, bees are able to fly in any direction by adjusting the angle and speed of their wings. They can also hover in place and fly backwards.

4. How do bees navigate while flying?

Bees use a combination of visual cues and the Earth's magnetic field to navigate while flying. They have specialized eyes that can detect polarized light, helping them orient themselves and find their way back to the hive.

5. Do all bees fly in the same way?

No, not all bees fly in the same way. Different species of bees have different wing sizes and shapes, which affect their flight patterns and abilities. Some bees are also better at flying long distances, while others are better at hovering and maneuvering.

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