The flight of the bumble bee

In my Observer column last Sunday I wrote that “It’s said that aeronautical theory says bumblebees ought not to be able to fly.” My friend Sean French (who is very hot on urban legends and memes generally) picked up on this and emailed me this link, which restates the theory that when you take in consideration the bee’s wingspan along with its weight it is aerodynamically impossible for it to generate enough lift. But it seems that

in 2005 with the assistance of high-speed cinematography and mechanical models of the bee’s wings, scientists were able to put this perplexing mystery to rest. As it turns out the bee flap its wings an amazing 230 times per second, much faster than smaller insects. Their analysis revealed sufficient lift was generated by unconventional combination of short, choppy wing strokes, a rapid rotation of the wing as it flops over and reverses direction, along with a very fast wing-beat frequency.

The site also included a link to this video, which shows a bee doing its stuff as captured by a high-speed camera: