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Discovery Magazine 9/1/1997

The Flight of the Bumblebee

Science has proven that the bumblebee can’t fly. How many times have you heard that saying? Surely this cannot be right? After all, we see the big hairy insects buzzing around quite happily from spring to autumn. They must be able to fly somehow. Did God do such a bad job with the bumblebee, that it has to work extra hard to achieve the "impossible?"

Of course, the answer is no. The story began many years ago. A biologist asked an expert on air movement to explain the flight of the bumblebee. At first, the expert made some rough guesses—the same sort of guesses he would make about an airplane. He looked at the small wings, and the large, heavy body, and decided that such a thing could not fly.

The problem, as you may have guessed, is that the bumblebee does not have stiff, fixed wings like an airplane. For a start, the bumblebee bends and twists its wings as they flap up and down. All of this happens 130 times every second. As a result, air moves over the wings and lifts the bee into the sky. By changing the angle of its wings, the plump bee can hover, fly very slowly, or zoom forward at over six miles per hour.

For some insects and birds, flying is a lot easier than getting off the ground. Like huge airplanes, some birds use long take offs, but others have a special trick. They start by raising their wings, and clapping them together. This moves all the air away from the top part of the wings. [You can see the same effect when you clap your hands together. Hang two or three inches of a sheet of paper over the edge of a table, and then clap your hands above the hanging part. Do you notice how the paper moves down with every clap?] Next, the insect or bird flings its wings open. Air rushes in to fill the space, which moves air over the wing very quickly, and creates enough lift for take off.

Bumblebees can fly very well. They can do many things that man-made machines cannot. But still, the humble bumblebee obeys all the laws of God’s creation.



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