Bumblebees Collide With Objects More Often Than You Think

This bee looks so shocked to be in this predicament. “How could I not see this pole?” it asks. “This was a huge mistake.”

Despite its surprise, bumblebees actually bump into things pretty frequently—around once per second. It’s not that they’re bad at flying, but that the air around them tends to move unpredictably.

The video series “Lens of Time” from bioGraphic aims to use high-speed or time-lapse photography to showcase animal behaviors you might not realize. In one of its latest videos, it tackles the bumblebee’s flight and how it manages to deal with all of these collisions.

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Scientists Stacey Combs, a professor who studies flight at UC Davis, and Andrew Mountcastle from Harvard, used high-speed cameras to see what happens to the wings of bees during a collision. They mounted an anesthetized bee onto a rotational motor and spun it around to replicate the speed at which the bee would be colliding with obstacles. They found that there was a joint at the center of the wing that would bend out of the way to protect it from the damage of a collision.

“Think of it as a perfect rubber band,” Combes said.

Watch the full video here.

[bioGraphic]

Weekend editor and night person at Gizmodo. More space core than human.

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DISCUSSION

I’m not sure how you think you know what I think about bumblebees, Carla, but I can tell you that since first seeing brand-new high-speed footage taken of bumblebees 30 or 40 years ago which debunked the then-commonly-accepted belief that they were insanely expert fliers, I have thought that bees were absolutely the clumsiest things with wings on the planet, and that they bumped into absolutely everything.

I think your headline should have been

Bumblebees Collide With Objects More Often Than I Think.