How Do Bees Fly?
A myth has been circulating for nearly 80 years — that we don’t understand how bees can fly. We seem to be fascinated with the inability to explain a phenomenon through a scientific rationale.
However, thanks to experts who have brought the myth to a close — we do know how bees can fly. They were able to determine the flight mechanisms of honey bees by utilizing high-speed digital photography and electronic model design of a bee wing.
By using 6000 fps (frames per second) technology, they observed that a bee is able to lift its stocky body by beating its wings at an impressive rate of up to 240 times per second — using very swift back-and-forth motions.
The reason bees can flap their wings so rapidly is that they have powerful muscles that squeeze their thorax in the up-and-down direction as well as left-and-right. It comes as naturally to them as breathing for humans and is considered to be one of the most exotic flight mechanisms used by an insect.
Bees have two sets of wings that enable them to carry out this seemingly heavy-duty task. Each set of wings is held together by little teeth — the hamuli. This allows the two wings to perform as one, creating a larger surface that keeps the bee in the air.
How Fast Do Bees Fly?
Different species of bees have different flight speeds. A bumblebee, for example, doesn’t need to carry out the same tasks as a honeybee, so they’ve evolved to travel at a different pace.
Nocturnal bees are very rare. Most bees fly during the day because it’s difficult for them to see or avoid obstacles in low light. When it gets dark, they don’t stop working. Bees spend the night feeding each other, making honey, taking care of the larvae and sleeping.
The average speed of a worker honeybee is 15 mph (21 km/h), and 12 mph (17 km/h) when traveling with pollen, nectar, or water. The fastest speed of a honeybee recorded is 20 mph — we see this when they attack other insects who prey on their hives.
Honey bees are the hardest working out of all the species of bees. They are continually collecting nectar and producing honey to prepare for the colder months — they need to be able to travel long distances as quickly as possible.
Contrary to popular belief, bees do sleep. Honey bees sleep inside their hives for up to an hour every night in short 10 to 15-second intervals. Older bees need more rest than younger ones.
A bumblebee’s wings beat at 200 bps (beats per second) with an average flight speed of 6.75 mph.
Bumblebees don’t produce honey in the same quantities as honeybees, because a hive will typically die out in the winter months — avoiding the need for stored food. During these colder months, the queen feeds on whatever honey was produced by her workers and lays eggs as the weather warms.
The reason bumblebees travel so fast is that they have an essential task to carry out — pollinating plants and crops. Bumblebees still need to eat, so they spend all day collecting pollen, nectar, and water.
Bumblebees are considered to form a crucial part of agriculture. Their decline in numbers raises concerns in the industry.
Africanized Honey Bees
Africanized honey bees travel at about the same speed as a honey bee — anywhere between 12 and 20 mph.
They’re notorious for being the most aggressive out of all the bee species, earning them the nickname “killer bees.” The slightest provocation, such as a loud sound, can send them into a frenzy. Since their discovery, they have been responsible for the deaths of over 1000 people.
The sting of a killer bee isn’t any more threatening than that of a honeybee, yet their victims get stung up to ten times more — this is because Africanized honey bees tend to attack in large swarms. A human could technically outrun them, but killer bees have extreme stamina and will chase a person for as long as it takes.
Some beekeepers prefer Africanized honey bees since they’re great honey producers. However, when maneuvering around their hives, the keepers need to take extreme caution.
Wasps are not bees, but they share a lot of characteristics, such as two sets of wings. This is because they’re both from the Hymenoptera order of insects.
Hornets are one of the more common species of wasps — they can fly up to 14 mph and beat their wings 100 times per second. The fastest recorded speed is that of an Asian giant hornet which can fly up to 25 mph. They become especially aggressive once the new queen is fully developed by late autumn, and will attack at full momentum.
Yellowjackets move their wings in the same way honey bees do, but can only fly up to 7 mph. They’re more aggressive than other stinging insects, and will often bite to gain a better grip to ram in their stinger.
Wasps don’t produce honey, but they are pollinators.
The reason why all bees and wasps fly the same way is that they have two sets of wings that move similarly. Some bees are required to fly faster — they have a job to complete, and they need to deter predators from the hive as quickly as possible.
As long as you don’t aggravate a bee or their hive, you shouldn’t need to worry about sprinting away.