Harvard University researchers found that America’s hardest working pollinators, the bumblebees, experience changes in flight dynamics depending on the type of load they are carrying – pollen or nectar.
The main reason for that are the different methods of storing these items. Bumblebees store nectar in their abdomen, while they carry pollen with help from their legs. Researchers found that pollen helps the tiny insects reach a balance and enter a jumbo-jet -like state in which they trade off mobility for stability.
The study was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Although the animals do not defy any natural laws when flying around, their flight patterns are very different from those of winged air crafts. Plus they can also fly on bad weather despite their heavy loads.
“What might be surprising to many people is just how much load they’re able to carry. Bumblebees are basically aerial tankers,”
one of the researchers noted.
They can carry about half their body weight in pollen, and twice their body weight in nectar. Nevertheless, this is no news since past studies had also revealed it. The new study however is the first to find a link between the type of load and bumblebees’ way of flying.
During their research, scientists used 14 bumblebees, which introduced into a wind tunnel and allowed to reach a phony flower loaded with nectar. But before the experiments, some of the animals were weighed down with artificial loads that perfectly mimicked either pollen or nectar cargos.
The wind tunnel simulated various wind conditions, while slow-motion cameras recorded the bumblebees at work. The research team found that under harsh conditions, the insects could be more stable if they carried a pollen load. But they lacked maneuverability.
On the other hand, bumblebees carrying nectar in their bellies were faster and could stir easier than those carrying pollen in calm air conditions. Scientists speculate that the bees may make their choice regarding pollen or nectar gathering depending on wind conditions. As a follow-up, that’s the main topic they wish to cover, said Dr. Sridhar Ravi, a bee expert from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia who was also involved in the experiments.
Dr. Ravi also said that the tiny animals are really “clever” and problem-solving oriented. He recalled about previous experiments where bumblebees were placed into mazes and had to get past obstacles and they eventually managed to do it.
Image Source: The Telegraph