How Do Bees Fly?
Bees exist in several different shapes and sizes. It can be fascinating to watch bigger species like bumblebees take off and become airborne. If you’ve ever wondered how bees fly, I’m here to explain.
You’ll discover if these winged insects are considered good flyers. I’ll explore the inner workings of bee wings. Finally, you’ll learn if all bees are capable of flying.
Are Bees Good Flyers?
Some types of bees are exceptionally good flyers. Honeybees are particularly accomplished. They can fly at roughly 20 miles per hour.
The working caste of honeybees spend a lot of their lives in the air. One pound of honey requires visiting more than two million individual flowers.
Keep in mind that this high figure is a result of a team effort. A single worker honeybee is only responsible for one-twelfth of a teaspoon worth of honey per week.
Bumblebees can forage up to one mile away from their nests. When you think of the size of a bee in relation to the distance, it’s impressive.
A bee’s ability to fly depends on a few factors. Bees are not all created equally when it comes to flight.
First and foremost, you must consider the species the bee belongs to. Different species have unique activities and needs. If bees don’t have a need to fly great distances, they aren’t built for it.
Take solitary bees as an example. Solitary species don’t have colonies with queens or a caste system. They don’t make mass quantities of honey to store in their nests. Females do collect nectar and pollen when laying eggs, but that’s it. All solitary bees need is enough food to meet their immediate needs.
For these reasons, their foraging range usually isn’t as far. One study examined the flight distances of 16 species of solitary bees. The average range was 150 to 600 meters.
The caste of a bee will also influence flight ability. This only applies to social bee species. The wings of the three castes (queens, workers, and drones) are distinctive.
Similarly, gender can impact how well a bee will be able to fly. Male and female anatomy can vary in other ways, aside from reproductive organs.
A bee’s age is also important relating to flight. A bee that has just emerged from the pupae won’t be able to take flight immediately.
Male honeybees take practice flights before they leave the beehive permanently. Worker bees do the same thing, shortly after emerging from their pupae. These flights are to help the bee get oriented and build up stamina.
Lastly, variables like health are important too. Sick bees and bees infected with parasites won’t develop normally. Their wings can be crumpled or otherwise deformed as a result.
How Do a Bee’s Wings Work?
Bees are classified under the Hymenoptera order of insects. The name of this order translates from Greek to “membrane wings.”
The majority of Hymenopterans are winged, and bees are no exception. A healthy adult bee has four wings in total, two pairs of different sized wings. Each pair of wings consists of a forewing and hindwing. The forewing is the visible one that we can see—it’s much larger. The smaller hindwing is hidden underneath.
The wings of a bee aren’t rigid. Even when the bee is flying, their wings stay flexible, rotating and twisting. Hamuli lining the inner and outer wings allow them to connect together. Hamuli resembles the teeth of a comb, except it has hooks.
When the wings are connected, they function as a single entity. The hindwing and forewing move simultaneously as one wing. This enables the bee to fly faster and with greater control. Four wings working independently of one another would make for a rough flight.
At this point, you might be thinking that this arrangement sounds inefficient. It would be more convenient for the bee to have two wings rather than four. However, when resting, or on the ground, bees lay their wings flat on their backs. This is only possible because the forewing and hindwing can be unhooked from one another.
The wings themselves are attached to muscles in the bee’s thorax. The thorax is the section between a bee’s head and abdomen. This part of a bee’s anatomy includes most of the muscles a bee uses for movement. A bee’s six legs are also attached to the thorax.
Still, the bulk of the muscles in the thorax are flight muscles. These are what power the bee’s wings into motion. The flight muscles contract and expand to move the bee’s wings. The contractions happen at a rapid pace. Once the bee is in the air, the wings sweep backward and forward.
A bee’s wings beat so quickly that the air around them vibrates. We hear these vibrations as buzzing.
Bees can control the speed of the strokes based on the activity. If the bee is hovering, wing strokes are shorter but faster.
At least in honeybees, there is evidence that they warm up their flight muscles before taking off. Just as you might warm up before a long run, bees warm up to improve their flights.
Remember that flight ability is dependent on several criteria. With social bees, workers have the toughest, thickest flight muscles. Comparatively, the queen bee has less developed flight muscles. After her mating flight, she isn’t likely to leave the nest or hive unless it’s time to swarm.
Do All Species of Bees Fly?
Yes, all species of bees fly. If a bee can’t fly, the insect is either injured or sick. If you see a bee with broken or missing wings, you can feed it sugar. Don’t forget to give the bee water too.
The next time you see a bee in the air, you now know how it’s staying up there. You can clear up any misconceptions friends or family have about bee flight.
Hopefully, you’ve learned all you need to know about how bees fly. Flight is only one of the many fascinating things these helpful pollinators are adept at.