Bumblebees Observed Flying Differently When Carrying Either Pollen or Nectar

Bumblebees Observed Flying Differently When Carrying Either Pollen or Nectar


The research shows that bumblebees have the ability to carry more than half their body mass in pollen, and nearly all of their body mass in nectar. According to data collected from Harvard University and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology , the bumblebee chooses between collecting pollen or nectar based on how it will later affect their maneuverability and stability-all the while taking weather conditions into account.

A new study suggests the flight patterns and maneuverability of bumblebees are altered by the weight of their loads and kind of food they carry. To test their hypothesis, researchers trained bees to fly toward an artificial flower in a wind tunnel. The study is published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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During their research, the team found that bumblebees have extra stability when carrying pollen because the loads act like balancing weights that help them become more stable.

But when the tiny insects had to land on a flower that changed position under rough wind conditions there was no difference between the two loads. When they collect pollen, they glue it to their legs in clusters. But scientists wanted to see how their flying varies when carrying pollen and nectar. In the game, players had to make a tradeoff when choosing characters: Embrace the agility of a lightweight character like Yoshi, but risk getting knocked around, or eschew maneuverability for stability with a heavier character like Bowser?

Bee flight performance was measured by gluing tiny ball bearings to the bees, either to their legs or abdomens, and sent them buzzing down a wind tunnel with a fake “flower” at the end of it. The bees’ were filmed with a high-speed camera.

While honey bees have dedicated foragers for pollen or for nectar, bumblebees are generalists and will carry either pollen or nectar depending on what the hive requires. “So if one thing is secure, it isn’t going to be maneuverable and if one thing is maneuverable it is in all probability not going to be secure”.

“Of course, bumblebees fly in a very different way than airplanes do”, he said. This trade-off may explain why some bumblebees prefer to forage for pollen during windy days.

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