Amazing ultra slow-motion video shows bees using their wings to surf on the surface of the water to avoid sinking
- When a bee falls in water the liquid sticks to its wings stopping it flying
- The bee is able to create a wave in the water that it can ‘surf to safety’
- Researchers used an ultra-slow motion camera to observe the bee surfing
- The bee is then able to get to the side of a pool of water and pull itself free
An ultra-slow motion video has been used to reveal the way a bee is able to use its wings to ‘surf to safety’ when it falls into a pool of water.
Engineers at the California Institute of Technology spotted a bee struggling in a pond on the university campus. They took it to the lab to study it on water.
When a bee falls into a pond or pool it’s able to use the fact water makes its wings sticky to create a wave that it can then use to get to the side and pull itself out.
The team used the video to examine the way the insect interacts with both water and air in its attempt to prevent itself from sinking.
The bees do not seem to be able to generate enough force to free themselves directly from the water, but their wing motion can propel them to the edge of a pool or pond
When researcher Chris Roh first spotted the bee on the pond he noticed that the shadows from the overhead sun showed the amplitude of the waves produced by its wings.
‘I was very excited to see this behaviour and so I brought the honeybee back to the lab to take a look at it more closely, he said.
The researchers worked to recreate the conditions of the pond, placing water in a pan and allowing it to become perfectly still.
Then, they put the bees in one at a time. As each flapped around in the water, filtered light was aimed directly onto it, creating shadows at the bottom of the pan, mimicking the effect seen on the pond.
They discovered that, when a bee comes into contact with water, its wings get stuck, robbing it of the ability to fly.
However that stickiness allows the bee to drag water, creating waves that propel it forward.
Rather than just flapping up and down, its wings curve downward to push the water down, and curve upward when pulling back up.
The pulling motion provides thrust, acting as a recovery stroke.
The bees also beat their wings slower, with a stroke amplitude of less than ten degrees – as opposed to 90-120 degrees when they are flying through the air.
Throughout the entire process, the top side of the wing remains dry while the underside clings to the water.
On hot days, bee hives require water to cool off. So when the temperature rises, workers are sent out to gather water instead of pollen. Stock image
The water that remains attached to the underside of the wing gives the bees the extra force they use to propel themselves forward.
Mr Roh added: ‘Water is three orders of magnitude heavier than air, which is why it traps bees. But that weight is what also makes it useful for propulsion.’
The bees do not seem to be able to generate enough force to free themselves directly from the water, but their wing motion can propel them to the edge of a pool or pond, where they can pull themselves onto dry land and fly off.
Mr Roh said: ‘On hot days, bee hives require water to cool off. So when the temperature rises, workers are sent out to gather water instead of pollen.
‘The bees will find a water source, swallow some into a special chamber in their bodies, and then fly off. Sometimes, however, they fall in. And if they cannot free themselves, they die.’
The groundbreaking research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE BEES?
Declines in recent months to honey bee numbers and health caused global concern due to the insects’ critical role as a major pollinator.
Bee health has been closely watched in recent years as nutritional sources available to honey bees have declined and contamination from pesticides has increased.
In animal model studies, the researchers found that combined exposure to pesticide and poor nutrition decreased bee health.
Bees use sugar to fuel flights and work inside the nest, but pesticides decrease their hemolymph (‘bee blood’) sugar levels and therefore cut their energy stores.
When pesticides are combined with limited food supplies, bees lack the energy to function, causing survival rates to plummet.