A group of biologists and aerospace engineers found that the type of load a bumblebee is carrying greatly affects its maneuverability and stability during flight. From their experiments researchers found that bumblebees’ flight dynamics changes whenever they switch nectar for pollen and conversely.
The bumblebee study, which was published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is one of the rare studies focused on the tiny animals’ shifts in flight patterns triggered by the type of load they are carrying.
Dr Sridhar Ravi, one of the study authors and aerospace engineering researcher at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, explained that the insects can carry nearly 50 percent of their body mass in pollen, and about all their body mass in nectar.
Nevertheless, the way the insects carry the two types of loads is entirely different. Scientists said that they carry nectar in their abdomen, and pollen on their legs which greatly affects their flight dynamics.
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. On the other hand, pollen loads slow the tiny insects down and also take their toll on maneuverability which can prove fatal in life-and-death situations, researchers noted.
But when bumblebees get busy with nectar, situation changes. They enter a jet-fighter-like mode with added maneuverability because the load is closer to their center of gravity. Still, they lack stability.
Dr. Ravi and his fellow researchers tested these features in a wind tunnel by using an artificial flower and 14 bumblebees. Before starting the experiments, loggers were attached on every insect. The animals’ movements were recorded with a high speed camera.
The study revealed that a bumblebee flew with greater stability when loaded with pollen under rough wind conditions than when it had to carry around nectar. But when the wind was calm and the flower was changing position, a bee carrying nectar was able to move quicker and more skillful than it would while loaded with pollen.
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.
“Such a test has never been done. It shows there’s a trade off between stability and maneuverability,”
Dr. Ravi noted.
He also added that you cannot have both; it is either stability or maneuverability. Researchers compared bumblebees carrying pollen with jumbo-jets that are stable but cannot perform quick and tight turns, and the ones carrying nectar with jet-flights that are very deftly but they lack stability.
Image Source: Drkaae
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