Honeybees Surf and Ride Waves

by Katy - Bee Missionary November 20, 2019

Honeybees Surf and Ride Waves

The image above of a bee generating waves in a pool is unrelated to the CalTech material.

Honeybees create waves and ride them! The more we learn about honeybees, the more they reveal amazing secrets about how they survive daily life.

As we know, worker honeybees often forage for water to bring back to the hive to act as a cooling system in the summertime when it is too hot. If a bee’s wings get wet, she cannot fly, so she must wait for them to dry.

This is hot-off-the-press research, released just this week. A study at California Institute of Technology reveals that when a honeybee that is searching for water accidentally falls into the water, she has a good chance to make it to safety. This particular type of surfing motion hasn’t been seen in other insects, most of which use their legs for propulsion in water.

This video is 54 seconds long and shows you the whole bee process:

It all began when Chris Roh, a research engineer at CalTech and the lead author of the study, went for a walk and saw a bee stuck in the water on Millikan Pond. He and Morteza Gharib, his co-author on this study and a professor of bio-inspired engineering and aeronautics at Caltech, collected honeybees in butterfly nets to observe their surf-like movements.

The report shows that a worker honeybee can use her wet wings to propel her like a hydrofoil, meaning her wings generate hydrodynamic thrust based on aerial—aquatic interaction.

If you see a honeybee on the surface of the water, you will notice a rippling wave pattern that flows out and away from her body, creating a form of locomotion that will move her forward. This is because when she falls into water, the water sticks to her wings so she can’t fly, but she can drag water to propel her forward. Her body then rides the wave.

According to the researchers, this ability to turn into a surfing hydrofoil highlights the versatility of the honeybee's flapping-wing systems. Roh says water is 3 orders of magnitude heavier than air, and this is what keeps the worker bee trapped in the water but also what makes it possible for her to create propulsion. The bee angles her wings and her ability to create propulsion is based on wing-flapping frequencies.

It is the formation of asymmetric waves with her wing movements that creates hydrodynamic activity. She also shows navigational skills by the ability to accelerate and decelerate, which researchers call ‘recoil locomotion.’

Dr. Roh and Dr. Gharib intend to design robots able to move in sea and sky and have already made a mechanical model that simulates the honeybee’s surfing ability. Their next goal is to make it light enough to fly as well. They foresee many practical uses for such an invention.

It is thought that this self-propelling ability probably increases the survival chances of a worker bee that is foraging for water when she falls in. Researchers estimate that the honeybee can continue this strenuous activity for about 10 minutes before exhausting herself if she can make it to water's edge by then.

And just think, this revelation and the subsequent inventions... it all began with a walk... how many other great inventions arose from a walk or by communing with nature in some way?

Nature = inspiration.

 

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Katy - Bee Missionary
Katy - Bee Missionary

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