Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

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

Date:
May 10, 2009
Source:
University of Oxford
Summary:
Brute force rather than aerodynamic efficiency is the key to bumblebee flight, Oxford University scientists have discovered.

High-speed cameras capture the bumblebee's 'brute force' approach to flight.
Credit: Richard Bomphrey

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 it’s 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 [Bombus terrestris] apart from most other flying animals.

"Our observations show that, instead of the aerodynamic finesse found in most other insects, bumblebees have a adopted a brute force approach powered by a huge thorax and fuelled by energy-rich nectar," said Dr Bomphrey. "This approach may be due to its particularly wide body shape, or it could have evolved to make bumblebees more manoeuvrable in the air at the cost of a less efficient flying style."

Professor Adrian Thomas of Oxford’s 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."

Observing insects in free – as opposed to tethered – flight is a considerable challenge. The Oxford team trained bumblebees to commute from their hive to harvest pollen from cut flowers at one end of a wind tunnel. They then used the wind tunnel to blow streams of smoke passed the flying bees, to reveal vortices in the air, and recorded the results with high-speed cameras taking up to 2000 images per second. From these images the team were able to visualise the airflow over flapping bumblebee wings.

The old myth that "bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly" was based on calculations using the aerodynamic theory of 1918-19, just 15 years after the Wright brothers made the first powered flight. These early theories suggested that bumblebee wings were too small to create sufficient lift but since then scientists have made huge advances in understanding aerodynamics and how different kinds of airflow can generate lift.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Oxford. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Richard James Bomphrey, Graham K. Taylor and Adrian L. R. Thomas. Smoke visualization of free-flying bumblebees indicates independent leading-edge vortices on each wing pair. Experiments in Fluids, 2009; 46 (5): 811 DOI: 10.1007/s00348-009-0631-8

Cite This Page:

University of Oxford. "Flight Of The Bumble Bee Is Based More On Brute Force Than Aerodynamic Efficiency." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 May 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090507194511.htm>.
University of Oxford. (2009, May 10). Flight Of The Bumble Bee Is Based More On Brute Force Than Aerodynamic Efficiency. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090507194511.htm
University of Oxford. "Flight Of The Bumble Bee Is Based More On Brute Force Than Aerodynamic Efficiency." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090507194511.htm (accessed April 23, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India

Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India

AP (Apr. 22, 2014) A leopard caused panic in the city of Chandrapur on Monday when it sprung from the roof of a house and charged at rescue workers. (April 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Iowa College Finds Beauty in Bulldogs

Iowa College Finds Beauty in Bulldogs

AP (Apr. 22, 2014) Drake University hosts 35th annual Beautiful Bulldog Contest. (April 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
805-Pound Shark Caught Off The Coast Of Florida

805-Pound Shark Caught Off The Coast Of Florida

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) One Florida fisherman caught a 805-pound shark off the coast of Florida earlier this month. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakfast Foods Are Getting Pricier

Breakfast Foods Are Getting Pricier

AP (Apr. 21, 2014) Breakfast is now being served with a side of sticker shock. The cost of morning staples like bacon, coffee and orange juice is on the rise because of global supply problems. (April 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins