Since the 1930s, an urban legend has circulated that bumblebees should not be capable of flight. In fact, bumblebees not only can fly but science now understands how they fly so well. Bumblebees can fly, on average, 3.3 yards per second. That means bumblebees can fly the length of a football field in approximately 30 seconds.
The Science of the Flight of the Bumblebee
Studies of bumblebee flight revealed these insects are not as aerodynamic as other flying insects. Instead of both sides of their body working together to create a more efficient flying machine, both sides work against each other. Additionally, their wings move at a rate of up to 200 movements per second, which is 10 to 20 times faster than their nervous system should respond. What researchers have discovered, however, is that the wings do not flap at all; instead, they vibrate like rubber bands. A 2009 Oxford University study found the bee’s powerful thorax and its consumption of energy-rich pollen allow it to force its way through the air.
While the average speed for a bumblebee is 3.3 yards per second, their speeds can vary with their activities. The fastest flying speeds have been recorded among foraging bees that can go as fast as 16 yards per second. These high speeds and their flying ability, in general, can be traced back to the structure of their wings, which are rigid in front and more flexible in the rear.
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