• Question: How does the bumblebee fly- apparently it defies the laws of physics, is this true?

    Asked by danrumford to Cat, Daz, Holly, Johnson, Pamela on 21 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Pamela Lithgow

      Pamela Lithgow answered on 21 Jun 2011:

      Hi Dan,
      I referred to Wiki for this one! Apparently it is a myth that bumblebees flight defies the law of physics. Using simplified models of flight you might think that bumblebees defy physics but the situation is more complex and involves “dynamic stall”, also to something as small as a bee air is actually quite viscose (thick) so that also helps them fly.
      I hope that helps
      Pam 🙂

    • Photo: Cat O'Connor

      Cat O'Connor answered on 21 Jun 2011:

      Hi Dan,

      I also had to look this one up. I’m not sure if I mentioned in one of your previous questions but I do not like bees or wasps…like really don’t like them. But for some reason, I don’t mind bumblebees. Perhaps because they look so rediculous as they fly around then place! Anyway I also looked it up and found where this common mispreception arose from :

      The question whether Bumbles should fly has been a source of mathematical controversy for nearly a century. It all began after some brainy dudes in a university in a university in Germany in the 1930s said they had proven (mathematically) that it was aerodynamically impossible for a bumblebee to fly. Bumblebees, of course, continued to fly………………………..

      The in 1996 some researchers in Cambridge Zoology department built scaled-up robotic models of insects to study in detail the airflow around their flapping wings and they showed that the extra aerodynamic lift required by bumbles was generated by a vortex travelling along the leading edge of the insect’s wings during a downstroke.

      Then, like Pam has mentioned, a scientist called John Maynard Smith, (he’s passed away not but i’ve read some of his stuff and worked with a lot of scientists he’s trained and they are all brilliant), said that the thick air that bumbles fly in makes it easier fot them to fly.

      This answer is all very rambley but I hope you can understand it and i’d like to finish with a fun fact:

      Did you know that a bumblebee flaps its wings about 130-240 times per second but this is nothing compared to the 1046 beats per second a tiny little midge beats its wings, amazing!



    • Photo: Johnson Soronnadi

      Johnson Soronnadi answered on 21 Jun 2011:

      After much search on wiki about bumblebee fly pattern, I did agree with Pam and Cat. Although, there are many controversies surrounding it.

      I was not aware this was a myth, but maybe is because I have seen bumblebees fly and always believed that everyone knew that they did. However, it’s interesting to understand the physics of why they can fly.