Scientists have found that bumblebees have the capability of flying at altitudes higher than the top of Mount Everest.


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Scientists have found that bumblebees have the capability of flying at altitudes higher than the top of Mount Everest.

In a study published today in Biology Letters, two zoologists, Michael Dillon, now at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, and Robert Dudley of the University of California, Berkeley, tested whether bumblebees’ vertical range was limited by aerodynamics and physiology. Working in the mountains of Sichuan, China, the duo caught five male bumblebees (Bombus impetuosus) foraging at 3,250 meters and placed them in a plexiglas chamber. Once the bees began to fly upwards, the pressure inside the chamber was reduced using a hand pump to simulate altitude increases in 500-meter intervals. All five bees could hover at air pressures equivalent to elevations of 7,400 meters; three could fly above 8,000 meters; and two got to above 9,000 meters.

If you read the entire article, you will notice that it completely ignores the false urban legend that bumblebees are aerodynamically unsound and shouldn’t be able to fly. Scientists have known for decades that it is false, but for some reason it keeps getting repeated.

2 comments

  • joe

    bumble bees are kind of like helicopters, they are so ugly that the ground repulses them, just kidding. they probably fly at the higher elevations because of less induced drag from a thinner atmosphere, less drag means less exertion. I never took the urban legend too seriously because I have seen bees fly, just because we don’t know too much about the mechanics of a bees flight and hovering dose not mean its not possible. carrying their own body weight in cargo is no mean feat, very impressive!

  • joe

    Hovering flight also takes up much more energy than forward flight, this ability to carry very heavy loads in hovering flight means that they also have a lot of endurance. nature always wins!

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