How do bees fly?

This is a discussion thread I found on

How do bees fly?

I’ve heard that bees’ wings are proportionally way too small to be able to fly. Studying the aviation field and looking at pictures of bees, it seems plausible that their wings are too small to support them in flight. Yet they fly. Do bees’ wings meet the lift/drag ratio needed for flight, and if not, how do they fly?
Graeme Shimmin, Bsc. Applied Physics and Electronics….
Short answer: Bees use different phenomena to fly than a plane does – translational, rotational, acceleration-reaction, and wing-wake interaction forces produced by the flapping of their wings.

Longer answer:

Most insects are thought to fly by creating a leading-edge vortex that
remains attached to the wing throughout a relatively slow, long stroke, bees do not follow this model.

The secret of bees ability to fly is a combination of short, choppy wing strokes, a rapid rotation of the wing as it reverses direction, and a very fast wing-beat frequency (230 beats per second).

This is the result:

The top red/blue lines show the wings going up and down, the middle lines show the angle of attack of the wings (basically vertical on the way up, and horizontal on the way down) This movement creates lift (the black line) greater than drag (green line) almost all the way through the stroke.

And as lift > drag, the bee flies (yay!)

The mechanisms by which the bee is generating lift are thought to be translational, rotational, acceleration-reaction, and wing-wake interaction forces. However, because of the way the forces scale with velocity, and acceleration, the contribution of the non-translational forces is greater for
shorter amplitude strokes .

This is very different to other insects where the lift is predominately translational at mid-stroke. This gives us the reason other insects seem to be ‘theoretically’ able to fly whilst the bee can’t. The other insects lift mechanism is better approximated by the aerodynamics of an unmoving wing.

The scientist who investigated (Michael Dickinson, an insect flight expert at Caltech) stated:

It is the more exotic forces created as the wing changes direction that
dominate, Additional vortices are produced by the rotation of the wing. It’s like a propeller, where the blade is rotating too. Also, the wing flaps back into its own wake, which leads to higher forces than flapping in still air. Lastly, there is another peculiar force known as “added-mass force” which peaks at the ends of each stroke and is related to acceleration as the wings’ direction changes.

Answer summarised from the paper available here:…

An indoor observation hive built by House of Bees

An indoor observation hive that was built by Darren from House of Bees. He built the warre hives that I’m using and is taking a particular interest in building hives into homes.

There is a little bit of a trick here because the bees on the inside can get quite a shock when they go to move outside, especially if it is cold. Darren provided a copper entry way so that bees coming out will sense the true outside temperature before taking the big plunge.

Much below 50 deg. F and bees are unable to fly and if it gets into the lower 40s their muscles are no longer able to shiver which is what allows them to generate heat. A single bee left alone in lower 40’s may not make it for long. This is why they cluster within the hive taking turns using their flight muscles to shiver which generates heat for the colony.

Thermo-regulation of a bee colony is one of many fascinating sub topics within the beekeeping world.

Link to House of Bees:

Supporting the Bees without becoming a beekeeper

By now you have  heard of the sever downturn in bee population in the United States and for that matter the world. If not check out this video.

Bee friendly flowers

So what is an average person to do? With environmental and world problems we often ask ourselves “what can I do to help” or you come to the conclusion that this is too big of a problem for one person to help out with, and, after all I don’t know anything about bees and I certainly don’t want to have a box full of them in my yard….so what can I do?

Here is a solution for those that don’t want to get into beekeeping but yet want to have a nice yard or planter box…Plant some bee friendly flowers. Now it is a win-win. You get the benefit of enjoying beautiful plants and flowers and the bees have what they need to feed and support their colony so that they can continue to do the heavy lifting of pollinating our fruits, vegetables and flowers.

Here is a link to a source of seeds that bees love. The variety pack also has a fact book included that has information about the plants as well as bee facts.

Seed Packets        Seed Collections







Cool idea for an urban beehive concept


Philips urban beehive concept

Philips idea of urban beehive as blogged by CNET

This is a unique approach to an urban beehive. 10 points for creativity though I don’t know how practical this would be. As the plight of the honeybee becomes more known we will see more and more innovative ways to work bees into our everyday lives.

On the one hand it would be great to have a garden hive in every backyard, on the other if you have a bunch of hives that are not managed correctly you may create more problems with disease and pests than you solve by supporting a larger bee population.

Read the entire CNET blog post by clicking here.

A look inside a Warre Beehive

Active Warre Beehive With Observation Window

warre Beehive, bees, honeycomb, Warre Hive

Click for a larger view

This Warre beehive sits on the front porch of Darrens house ( This colony was collected from a swarm and seems to be doing well so far as we move into the fall. A little closer look at the window shows what is going on with the comb that has been built. Notice how it is built right out to the glass. Bees are amazing at winterizing their home and stopping any unwanted drafts so that it is easier for them to control the temperature.

New Warre Beehives

Warre BeehiveToday I nailed down my hive system by buying two Warre hives from Darren at House of Bees. Though Darren does not want to get into the business of shipping hives, if you live in the Pacific Northwest and want to pick up your hive he would be happy to sell you one. He also has a booth at many of the NW bee conferences. As I mentioned in the last post I looked at several places to buy hives. Fortunately I met Darren at my first West Sound Beekeepers Association meeting. He sells a very high quality Warre hive system with many upgrades including; observation window, feeding solution built into the quilt box, screened bottom board, and beveled topbars with built in spacers….. all wrapped up in fine workmanship. I know this sounds like a commercial for House of Bees (ok so it is) I really believe in supporting local service providers and when you find one that is knowledgeable, provides a good product and is excited about what they do you should share it with the world.

Next step is to paint the hives and find where I’m going to keep them in the yard. I thought I had two good places picked out but with Darren’s coaching I’m looking elsewhere.

So….for now, since I’m long on hives and short on bees I’m not quite yet a “beekeeper” rather a “hivekeeper” 🙂Warre Beehive, top bars

Thinking about going with Warre hives

The amount of information available about; bees, hive systems, honey, pest and disease control is amazing. Thanks to technology, discussions can be had with beeks all over the world. I’ve read several books, started reading an array of magazines, reviewed many blogs and bee websites and read posts on a couple of forums. The fun thing about a new hobby like this is you learn about stuff that you did not even know existed…, did you know there is a huge black market in honey? Honey laundering…, but that is another complete topic.

The two forums that I’ve joined are both in Yahoo Groups; warrebeekeeping and westsoundbees

The warrebeekeeping group is comprised of beekeepers from all over the world. It is a great learning advantage just to read the various posts. Many of the topics are over my head but a lot of it deals with everyday hive management.

Based the the reading that I’ve done and my basic philosophy of letting nature take its own course has me leaning toward starting out with two Warre hives. I’ve looked at two websites seriously; and Both seem to have quality built warre hives. I was leaning toward beethinking as they are located in Portland until I came across a local who is building warre hives. I hope to visit with him in the next week or so and I’ll post the particulars.

My reasons for a Warre:

1) Seems to be more natural for the bees, better resembles the inside of a tree

2) Requires less handeling by the beekeeper

3) Lower start up cost

4) Seems that there is a lower incidence of mites

5) Less complicated (simpler can be better)

Basic Philosophy

Nature has its own course. If a thing is on its own natural course, trying to bend it to your will or change its path to suit your needs only increases the friction, frustration and tension for both you and the thing. To work as a partner with nature you are best to 1) help and encourage  it down its natural course, 2) keep your own ego out of it, 3) If you don’t agree with the course the thing is on, stop trying to change it and let it go….you can only change yourself, you cannot change the thing. 4) This applies to plants, animals, people…..and bees.