© Richard BomphreyHigh-speed cameras capture the bumblebee's 'brute force' approach to flight.
Brute force rather than aerodynamic efficiency is the key to bumblebee flight, Oxford University scientists have discovered.
In recent years scientists have modelled how insect wings interact with the air around them to generate lift by using computational models that are relatively simple, often simplifying the motion or shape of the wings.
"We decided to go back to the insect itself and use smoke, a wind tunnel and high-speed cameras to observe in detail how real bumblebee wings work in free flight," said Dr Richard Bomphrey of the Department of Zoology, co-author of a report of the research published this month in Experiments in Fluids
. 'We found that bumblebee flight is surprisingly inefficient - aerodynamically-speaking it's as if the insect is 'split in half' as not only do its left and right wings flap independently but the airflow around them never joins up to help it slip through the air more easily.'