Bumblebees Collide With Objects More Often Than You Think

By Carli Velocci on at

This bee looks so shocked to be in this predicament. “How could I not see this pole?” it asks. “This was a huge mistake.”

Actually, it’s a bit more common than that as bumblebees apparently bump into things frequently. It’s not that bumblebees are bad at flying. It’s that the air around them moves so unpredictably that they tend to bump into things around once per second.

The video series “Lens of Time” from bioGraphic aims to use high-speed or time-lapse photography to showcase animal behaviours you might not realize. In one of its latest videos, it tackles the bumblebee’s flight and how it manages to deal with all of these collisions.

Scientists Stacey Combs, a professor who studies flight at UC Davis, and Andrew Mountcastle from Harvard, used high-speed cameras to see what happens to the wings of bees during a collision. They mounted an anaesthetised bee onto a rotational motor and spun it around to replicate the speed at which the bee would be colliding with obstacles and found that there was a joint at the centre of the wing that would bend out of the way.

“Think of it as a perfect elastic band,” Combes said.

Watch the full video here. [bioGraphic]