Nectar-carrying bumblebees: Fasten your seat belts
Bumblebees are more stable in-flight when carrying a simulated pollen load (rather than nectar), but they sacrifice maneuverability. The results of the study, led by Harvard biologist Andrew Mountcastle, were published in a report by the National Academy of Sciences.
Bees carry pollen in specially-designed compartments on their hind legs; in contrast, they transport nectar in a special pouch in their abdominal region. Mountcastle and his colleagues set out to investigate whether the bees’ flight patterns was affected by whether they carried weight in their legs (pollen) or their abdomens (nectar).
The study measured the bees’ in-flight movements with a lightweight sensor attached to their backs. To simulate the load of either nectar or pollen, they glued tiny ball bearings either to their legs or abdomens of the bees. The bees were then sent buzzing down a wind tunnel with a fake “flower” at the end of it. The bees’ were also filmed with a high-speed camera.
Bees can haul up to half their own body weight in pollen, according to a team of researchers led by Harvard biologist Andrew Mountcastle. Bees are also able to store enough nectar to double their body weight. “They’re basically aerial tankers,”said lead researcher and Harvard biologist Andrew Mountcastle.
However, bumblebees fly differently than fixed-wing airplanes. Their wings bend and twist as they flap. They are also very good at flying in inclement weather; new bee experiments are focusing on whether the weather conditions influence whether bees choose to gather pollen or nectar.