I just saw this pic

enter image description here

So I got curious and logged in on physics.stack first time, is it true? I am a math major and usually wander on mathstack but I would like to understand why Bumble bee cannot fly according to physics laws but still do? I am only familiar with high school physics, no aerodynamics at all. If some one can explain it to me in easy terms, I'll be obliged.

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    $\begingroup$ The quote isn't being serious, of course the bumblebee does not violate the laws of aerodynamics. $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind
    May 25, 2015 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ Note that Wikipedia has a whole section devoted to this misconception: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bumblebee#Misconception_about_flight $\endgroup$
    – Martin
    May 25, 2015 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ I just read a paper which argues quite convincingly that flapping fixed wings won't allow a bumblebee to fly, but then it goes on to explain why moving flexible wings in a circular motion (which is what these insects do) works just fine. So it's quite clear where the misunderstanding is: the shape of the bumblebee wing at rest is not nearly the same as that of the dynamically loaded wing. $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    May 25, 2015 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate: physics.stackexchange.com/q/7839/2451 $\endgroup$
    – Qmechanic
    May 25, 2015 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ And note that no discussion of the subject is complete without xkcd xkcd.com/1186 $\endgroup$ May 25, 2015 at 23:22

2 Answers 2


If bumblebees were propelled the way fixed-wing aircraft are propelled, their wings would not be aerodynamic. An airplane needs two devices to become and remain airborne. Its engines generate thrust, and its wings provide lift.

A bumblebee, however combines both thrust and lift into one integrated device. The bumblebee's wings, unlike a fixed wing aircraft, and unlike even a helicopter's blades, operate independently of each other. They oscillate, rather than rotate, and create a powerful vortex above them that generates considerably more lift than a fixed-wing aircraft, and their independent wings create more maneuverability than a helicopter's fixed blades.

An Oxford University team put bumblebees in a wind tunnel and studied the effect produced by the bumblebee's wings: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090507194511.htm. Here is an abstract of the actual study: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00348-009-0631-8.

Although a bumblebee is an inefficient flyer, it's large thorax and nectar-fueled energy consumption overcome the small size of its wings.


This is not true. The rumor comes from a paper written in the 30s. The scientist, Antoine Magnan, who made the paper did his calculations wrong and retracted the paper, but, of course, the media wouldn't listen.


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