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“The body of a bumblebee is not suitable for flying”? We explain

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According to a recurring story, bumblebees should not be able to fly because their “aerodynamic body is not suitable for flying.” Internet users on social media are delighted with the brave insects, but neither the theory itself nor the photo attached to the story are true. We remind and explain.

We show what is true and what is false

We verify fake news, check data, and analyze information from the Internet

“At the NASA Space Science Center there is a poster with a photo of bumblebees, on which it is written: 'The aerodynamic body of bumblebees is not suitable for flying, but it's good that the bumblebee doesn't know about it,'” wrote a user of the website X on June 5 first from two entries (original spelling). In the next one she added: “The law of physics, the principle of aerodynamics, says that its wing width is too small to support the huge body of a bumblebee in flight, but it doesn't know it, it doesn't know about physics or its logic, and despite it, it still flies. This is something we can all do – fly despite difficulties…” She attached a photo of the insect seen from the back to the thread: you can see two pairs of wings, a dark back, a pair of thin and dark legs and a white and red “abdomen”, which seems to not match the whole with the legs.

An entry about bumblebees, which supposedly should not fly due to their structure.X.com

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The user's entry on X has been viewed over 363,000 times. times, he also had almost 6 thousand likes and over 330 retweets.

In addition to the X entries cited above, the same story also appeared on Facebook in very many copies. Most often, it was accompanied by the same photo – showing a floating insect with a strange abdomen and legs. But not always – other photos were also attached.

Posts on social media that the body of bumblebees is not suitable for flying.Facebook, X.com

However, critical comments prevailed among the users who commented: “Such a place does not exist, such a poster has never been created, and the aerodynamic principle is some kind of linguistic monster – please do not continue sharing nonsense without checking the sources” – this is one of the most popular comments on X under the user's entry. But some people believed: “God doesn't make mistakes, he created what he wanted, despite physics, sometimes his miracles happen!” – this is a comment under the photo on Facebook. Others raved: “What a sweet ass. Thanks for the photo!” – wrote another commenter.

The story and photo are not new and are resurfaced after several years. The photo is altered, a fragment of a photo of another animal has been added to the photo of the bumblebee. Below we remind you how we described this story in our pages Konkret24 in early May 2021, when it was very popular on Polish social media. We explain where the photo comes from, how it was processed and what we have found out about it. We also describe why bumblebees are great fliers.

“Nice ass”

Already in 2021, users raved about the photo: “Wonderful”; Wonderful”; “Let's be like bumblebees”; “A wonderful insect. Just imitate”; “The strength is within us”; “Let's enjoy life”; “I understand this miracle of nature. “Strength and speed”; “Nice ass”; “Look how cute it is” – Facebook users commented then.

The text about the bumblebee with a photo also appeared on Polish Twitter (currently website X). “I'll put it here. It's a bumblebee's asshole. There's a poster at the NASA Space Science Center with a bumblebee that says, 'The aerodynamic body of a bumblebee is not suitable for flying, but it's a good thing the bumblebee doesn't know it and flies.' “Happy Friday, Friday, Friday” she wrote on April 23 internet user.

While searching the web, we found similar versions of this post posted over the years. Those talk about unspecified scientists, who supposedly stated that “the bumblebee has too much mass in relation to the surface of its wings”, so it cannot fly – and because it does not know about it – it does so. We have seen entries with this or similar content, among others: on psychological and motivational blogs and websites, and on meme sites.

Forged photo. Where was it created?

We showed the photo of a bumblebee circulating online in 2021 to Dr. Weronika Banaszak-Cibicka, who was then an assistant professor at the Department of Utility Insect Breeding at the Institute of Zoology of the University of Life Sciences in Poznań. “Of course, it is altered – she said. She estimated that instead of the abdomen of a bumblebee, someone had pasted a photo of the back of a stuffed dog with a computer; that the photo showed not the back of an insect, but the characteristic rump of a corgi dog,” we wrote.

When looking for the original photo on the Internet, we used the reverse Yandex search (the Russian equivalent of the Google search engine). In the results, we saw multiple copies of a single photo, which shows an almost identical bumblebee to the one now popular on social media. The insect is on the same background, has the same colors, has identical wings – only the back of the bumblebee is different, because its abdomen looks ordinary. We concluded that it could be the original photo, which is now circulating on the Internet.

We found a photo that appears to be the original – using TinEye's reverse image search – among others. on Flickr. He published it there on April 7, 2014 Dutch photographer Marjan Smeijsters. We contacted him. “Yes. I took this photo,” he wrote to us in a private message sent via Flickr. He assured that it had not been tampered with. He said he took them on April 7, 2014, in his garden in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, where he lived at the time – and posted them twice on the same day.

Why twice? Well, Marjan Smeijsters saw that his photo immediately became popular on the Internet, but it was published without his consent and without information about who the author was. He wrote to us about his attempts to reach people who did this and that only a few of them responded to him. “That's why I decided to publish this photo again, but this time with my name and surname on it. And since then, I've been doing this with each of my photos,” the photographer explained to us.

So the photo – as he claims – posted again on Flickr on April 7, 2014 with the description in English: “In spring, you can see a bumblebee going to another rendezvous.” On April 16, 2014, his photograph was named Flickr's Photo of the Week.

In search of the source of the story about the bumblebee

We also found it on the Internet English version of the text about the bumblebee, the poster and NASA – but in the attached photo (which is said to have been taken by a Dutchman), the bumblebee has an ordinary abdomen. So is this whole story true?

Already in 2010, an American fact-checking portal Snopes wrote, that the claim that scientists have proven that bumblebees cannot fly regularly appears as a scientific curiosity in all sorts of articles – often in a way that discredits scientists who are supposed to not understand something as simple as bumblebee flight. Snopes reported that the story of the bumblebee appears in popular culture as an example for people not to worry about others' opinions about themselves.

Some accounts date back to the 1930s and a conversation that took place in a German bar between a biologist and an aerodynamicist. The biologist wanted to know how it was possible for a bee to fly if it had such small wings. The engineer had to make quick calculations and concluded: these insects are unable to fly because they are unable to generate adequate lift. However, there is no official confirmation of such a conversation.

Another clue leads to a book by the French entomologist Antoine Magnan. In the introduction to the title published in 1934, “Flight of insects” was intended to state that, analyzing the issue of air resistance, their flight is impossible. However, it is not known how this little-known book would enter scientific circulation.

Bumblebees are good fliers. They can even fly backwards

Professor Ph.D. Marek Kozłowski from the Faculty of Horticulture, Biotechnology and Landscape Architecture at the Department of Applied Entomology of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences admitted in 2021 that he had heard a story about a bumblebee when he was still a student. “This is all nonsense. If someone assumed that bumblebees fly like birds, they might actually think that this insect is not adapted to this,” he explained.

And he said: bumblebees weigh almost a gram, the area of ​​their wings is almost a square centimeter. They fly at a speed of about one meter per second. Taking this into account, it turns out that these insects should not be able to fly because they cannot produce enough lift. Only such calculations assume that they have rigid wings. They do not take into account their structure and the very complicated movement they perform. “No laws of physics are broken,” assured Prof. Kozlowski. “Bumblebees, although they fly sluggishly, are good fliers. They can even fly backwards,” he said. Dr. Weronika Banaszak-Cibicka added: “When looking for a place to nest, they can move long distances.”

Of course, bumblebees cannot glide like airplanes or birds. To fly, they must flap their wings very quickly. They have two larger ones and two smaller ones. To put it simply, they move them forward and backward while rotating them around their own axis. This creates a lifting force that allows them to stay in the air. The wings move thanks to two large pairs of muscles in the body.

“The flight of insects is different from the flight of birds. High frequency of movements, figure-eight movement” – explained Dr. Banaszak-Cibicka. Professor Kozłowski added that the thin wings drill into the air, combining the capabilities of both airplane wings and helicopter rotors.

In 2021, we turned to the NASA Research Center. Joseph Ames asking if the story about the bumblebee poster hanging there was true, but we did not receive an answer at that time.

Bee, wasp, bumblebee, hornet. How to recognize them (PAP/DPA)PAP/DPA

Main photo source: AdobeStock

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