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Discovery Magazine 11/1/2004


Oh, to Be a Bee

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.

Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to fly—without being in an airplane? Imagine being an eagle, and being able to soar over wide-open spaces. Or, imagine being a hummingbird, and being able to “stand still in mid air” over a flower while you drink its nectar. Or, imagine being a bumblebee.

A bumblebee?! A big, fat, hairy, bumblebee? Yep. A bumblebee. When scientists first looked at the bumblebee, they had trouble believing the creature could even get off the ground, much less fly. Bumblebees have wings that are small in relation to their bodies. An airplane built with the same proportions would never fly. Bumblebees seem to be a poor choice to join elegant eagles and hovering hummingbirds as wonders of the air.

But they are just that—wonders of the air! A bumblebee does not have fixed wings (like an airplane). Rather, it is more like a helicopter with flexible blades. The bee’s wings can be bent and twisted as they flap up and down to help its flight. A bumblebee can flap its wings at a rate of 130 times per second by using muscles in its abdomen. Changes in stroke patterns create many different air-related forces. Insect wings do not flap like doors on hinges. Rather, the tip of each wing moves in an oval pattern. Also, the wings “flip” during each beat: the topside
of the wing faces up during the downstroke, and down during the upstroke. As a result, air moves over the wings and lifts the tiny bumblebee into the sky. By changing the angle of its wings, the plump bee can choose to hover, fly very slowly, or zoom forward at more than six miles per hour.

The eagle has nothing on the humble bumblebee! Size isn’t everything. An insect that scientists once thought shouldn’t fly, can—and very well! Did the bumblebee’s incredible design “evolve by chance”? Or is it the result of God’s design? Do airplanes “just evolve by chance”? Hardly. Neither did the bumblebee. As the Bible says, “He that built all things is God” (Hebrews 3:4). Eagles to insects, God designed every one of them. Remember that, the next time you see a hairy, humble bumblebee.



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