Fly, Fly, Bumblebee

Valerie Molino

We’ve all at least once in our lives thought about the impossibility of bumblebees flying, what with their big posterior. However, the truth is finally out. A biology professor at the University of Washington, Michael Dickinson, says, “The whole question of how these little wings generate enough force to keep the insect in the air is resolved.”

The person who is said to have started this rumor is Antoine Magnan (1881– 1938), a French entomologist, who is known for his novel “Le Vol des Insectes”. In his introduction, he states, “To begin, with what is evident with aviation, I’ve applied the laws of air resistance to insects and I arrived, with Mr. SaintLagué, to this conclusion that it is impossible for them to fly.”

Dickinson explains that bumblebees do not flap their wings up and down: “Actually, with rare exceptions, they flap their wings back and forth.” This is the biggest reason for why Magnan had been wrong, all those years ago. He did not take into account this small detail.

To gather data on bumblebees, Dickinson had used high-speed cameras to take pictures of real flying bees. Additionally, he used a robotic model of a bee that was larger in size. With all of this, he was able to successfully explain how it is possible for bumblebees to fly.

How one wrong idea can get so famous and stay that way for so long is incredible. Yet, it makes you think about all the other misconceptions we might have on things around us. So it is resolved: bumblebees can fly, and yes, we are able to explain why it is so!

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