Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Flight Of The Bumblebee

I mentioned in the post about the dragonflies, that I had been taking pictures of bumblebees. I meant to talk about the bees first but it didn't work out that way. Anyway, here's one of them. It was kind of hard to get a picture of any of them because they were moving around so much. I said before that there were about half a dozen of them, but there were probably quite a bit more. These bumblebees were flying all around me. The one in this picture landed on this flowering plant, obviously looking for pollen. These purple plants were all over this field and so were the bumblebees. Here's something from Wikipedia:

Bumblebee from Wikipedia

A bumblebee (or bumble bee) is any member of the bee genus Bombus, in the family Apidae; there are over 250 known species primarily occurring in the Northern Hemisphere.

Bumblebees are social insects that are characterized by black and yellow body hairs, often in bands. However, some species have orange or red on their bodies, or may be entirely black[1]. Another obvious (but not unique) characteristic is the soft nature of the hair (long, branched setae), called pile, that covers their entire body, making them appear and feel fuzzy. They are best distinguished from similarly large, fuzzy bees by the form of the female hind leg, which is modified to form a corbicula; a shiny concave surface that is bare, but surrounded by a fringe of hairs used to transport pollen (in similar bees, the hind leg is completely hairy, and pollen grains are wedged into the hairs for transport).

Like their relatives the honey bees, bumblebees feed on nectar and gather pollen to feed their young.


According to 20th century folklore, the laws of aerodynamics prove that the bumblebee should be incapable of flight, as it does not have the capacity (in terms of wing size or beat per second) to achieve flight with the degree of wing loading necessary. Not being aware of scientists 'proving' it cannot fly, the bumblebee succeeds under "the power of its own ignorance".[23] The origin of this myth has been difficult to pin down with any certainty. John McMasters recounted an anecdote about an unnamed Swiss aerodynamicist at a dinner party who performed some rough calculations and concluded, presumably in jest, that according to the equations, bumblebees cannot fly.[24] In later years McMasters has backed away from this origin, suggesting that there could be multiple sources, and that the earliest he has found was a reference in the 1934 French book Le vol des insectes by M. Magnan. Magnan is reported to have written that he and a M. Saint-Lague had applied the equations of air resistance to insects and found that their flight was impossible, but that "One shouldn't be surprised that the results of the calculations don't square with reality".[25]

It is believed that the calculations which purported to show that bumblebees cannot fly are based upon a simplified linear treatment of oscillating aerofoils. The method assumes small amplitude oscillations without flow separation. This ignores the effect of dynamic stall, an airflow separation inducing a large vortex above the wing, which briefly produces several times the lift of the aerofoil in regular flight. More sophisticated aerodynamic analysis shows that the bumblebee can fly because its wings encounter dynamic stall in every oscillation cycle. [26]

I always heard this bumblebee myth and thought it was generally accepted reality. I learn something new with every new everyday adventure.

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