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Scientists Figure Out How Bees Fly 1237

corbettw writes "Researchers at CalTech have discovered how bees fly, putting one more nail in the coffin of Intelligent Design. From the article: 'People in the ID community have said that we don't even know how bees fly ... We were finally able to put this one to rest. We do have the tools to understand bee flight and we can use science to understand the world around us.'"
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Scientists Figure Out How Bees Fly

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  • Article contents (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @05:40PM (#14440163)

    Sara Goudarzi
    Special to LiveScience Tue Jan 10, 9:00 AM ET

    Proponents of intelligent design, which holds that a supreme being rather than evolution is responsible for life's complexities, have long criticized science for not being able to explain some natural phenomena, such as how bees fly.

    Now scientists have put this perplexing mystery to rest.

    Using a combination of high-speed digital photography and a robotic model of a bee wing, the researchers figured out the flight mechanisms of honeybees.

    "For many years, people tried to understand animal flight using the aerodynamics of airplanes and helicopters," said Douglas Altshuler, a researcher at California Institute of Technology. "In the last 10 years, flight biologists have gained a remarkable amount of understanding by shifting to experiments with robots that are capable of flapping wings with the same freedom as the animals."

    Exotic flight

    The scientists analyzed pictures from hours of filming bees and mimicked the movements using robots with sensors for measuring forces.

    Turns out bee flight mechanisms are more exotic than thought.

    "The honeybees have a rapid wing beat," Altshuler told LiveScience. "In contrast to the fruit fly that has one eightieth the body size and flaps its wings 200 times each second, the much larger honeybee flaps its wings 230 times every second."

    This was a surprise because as insects get smaller, their aerodynamic performance decreases and to compensate, they tend to flap their wings faster.

    "And this was just for hovering," Altshuler said of the bees. "They also have to transfer pollen and nectar and carry large loads, sometimes as much as their body mass, for the rest of the colony."

    Try this!

    In order to understand how bees carry such heavy cargo, the researchers forced the bees to fly in a small chamber filled with a mixture of oxygen and helium that is less dense than regular air. This required the bees to work harder to stay aloft and gave the scientists a chance to observe their compensation mechanisms for the additional toil.

    The bees made up for the extra work by stretching out their wing stroke amplitude but did not adjust wingbeat frequency.

    "They work like racing cars," Altshuler said. "Racing cars can reach higher revolutions per minute but enable the driver to go faster in higher gear. But like honeybees, they are inefficient."

    The work, supervised by Caltech's Michael Dickinson, was reported last month in the Proceedings of the
    National Academy of Sciences.

    The scientists said the findings could lead to a model for designing aircraft that could hover in place and carry loads for many purposes such as diaster surveillance after earthquakes and tsunamis. They are also pleased that a simple thing like bee flight can no longer be used as an example of science failing to explain a common phenomenon.

    Proponents of intelligent design, or ID, have tried in recent years to promote the idea of a supreme being by discounting science because it can't explain everything in nature.

    "People in the ID community have said that we don't even know how bees fly," Altshuler said. "We were finally able to put this one to rest. We do have the tools to understand bee flight and we can use science to understand the world around us."

            * Flight of the Fly
            * Dancing Bees Speak in Code
            * The First Biplanes Were Dinosaurs
            * Secret of Bird Flight Revealed

    Visit for more daily news, views and scientific inquiry with an original, provocative point of view. LiveScience reports amazing, real world breakthroughs, made simple and stimulating for people on the go. Check out our collection of Amazing Images, Image Galleries, Interactive Features, Trivia and more. Get cool gadgets at the new LiveScience Store, sign up for our free daily email newsletter and check out our RSS feeds today!
  • by Pyrowolf ( 877012 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @05:46PM (#14440235) Homepage
    This story, or at least the summary, should most certainly be modded -1 Flamebait. As the parent noted, what kind of purpose does it serve by inserting some remark about Intellegent Design being put in the grave because they figured out how bees fly? And this a few stories after the griping post in regards to story moderation and conspiracy theories.

    ...Good grief.
  • Old news (Score:5, Informative)

    by AC-x ( 735297 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @05:48PM (#14440265)
    People in the ID community have said that we don't even know how bees fly ... We were finally able to put this one to rest.

    "Finally able to put this one to rest"????

    This taken from 1993!

    Author: underdog
    Text: Can you explain "how" it is that a bee is capable of flying?

    Response #: 1 of 1
    Author: ProfBill
    Text: This is just an old engineering myth. There really is not a
    problem understanding how bees fly. The muscles that move the wings down are
    powerful enough to generated enough force to lift the weight of the bee. On
    the downstroke, the wings are "feathered", that is turned vertically so that
    moving up they do not generated a force down to undo all the work of lifting
    the bee in the first place. Much like a rower turns the oar parallel to the
    water on the return stroke, but perpendicular to the water to generate force
    on the power stroke. It all adds up just fine. The real unanswered question
    is how the bee's nervous system coordinates all this, especially the bit
    about compensating for wind, turning, etc.

    As far as I can see the only difference with this article is they've got a bit more detail on it, talk about sensationalist headlines!
  • by scheming daemons ( 101928 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @05:58PM (#14440403)
    but the Evolutionist crowd should be more open to the possibility that all things in the known world had a start initiated by intelligence

    Sure.. but then the ID crowd needs to explain how something as complex as the intelligent designer came to be. What created the "intelligent designer"? Surely something is irreducibly complex as a being that could create the known universe must have had its own intelligent designer? No?

    It's an endless circle that the ID crowd can't resolve, so they usually ignore.

    Their typical answer, when pressed, is... "well.. God just is." No beginning, no end. Well then, why can't we equally say.. with exactly as much evidence.. the Universe just is. It's been an endless series of big-bang/expand/contract/big-bang-again forever.. that's as plausible as the "God just is" line.

    A supreme being may exist.. No one can prove otherwise. But a supreme being is not necessary to explain the universe we live in.

  • by springbox ( 853816 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @06:02PM (#14440442)
    It makes sense if you read the article:
    "People in the ID community have said that we don't even know how bees fly," Altshuler said. "We were finally able to put this one to rest. We do have the tools to understand bee flight and we can use science to understand the world around us."
    And I'm not surprised to see real scientists getting ticked off about this particular group of people whose ideas and actions can often be characterized as ridiculous or at least irrational.
  • by Eslyjah ( 245320 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @06:05PM (#14440488)
    I have not read it, but I hear that Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe is an important work among those who advocate ID. Applause for your interest in going to the source. I wish more slashdotters thought this way. It leads to much more interesting discussions.
  • by AlfredNilknarf ( 929652 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @06:19PM (#14440646)
    All the "ID crowd" says is: There is evidence of design in nature.

    That's it. No comment about who/what/whif about the designer.

    Christians, however, beleive that God is the designer and that God was not created. Why do Christians beleive this? Because that is what the Bible says about God. I beleive what the Bible says - if you don't that's OK, you don't have to.
  • by clockwise_music ( 594832 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @06:20PM (#14440659) Homepage Journal
    If only more people in the world were like you, sir.

    The only book that I have read is titled "Case for a Creator" by Lee Strobel. ( []). What I thought good about this book is that he references lots of other books - may be a good starting point.

    (I also agree with a lot of the parents that the original 'story' is a pathetic attempt at flame-baiting. Slashdot is getting pathetic and showing it's bias - final nail in the coffin of ID.. give me a break )
  • by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @06:29PM (#14440791) Homepage Journal
    You've had plenty of thoughtful replies (and some total dipsticks), but I'd like to add mine anyway.

    As many have said, science and God do not have to be mutually exclusive, but people on each side are defending certain things that ARE mutually exclusive. Scientists object to the teaching of intelligent design because it's poor science. They cannot accept the teaching of it as science because it contradicts the basis on which science works. (Teaching it as a public policy or moral matter is different, but there are practical if not epistemological concerns about the fact that this could easily be construed by students and even teachers as a scientific endorsement of the ID theory.)

    Some religious people object to the teaching of evolution because it contradicts fundamentally held beliefs, not just physical ones (like the idea that man is a separate creation from apes) but moral ones (that if the Bible is not literally true on the subject of creation, then its moral authority on all bases are questioned). The compromise you've reached (along with many others) is unacceptable to them.

    On that point they are mutually exclusive. There are those whose moral codes are built on what they consider the strongest rock, the Bible, but which I consider to be an extremely flimsy base. Both sides are well funded and politically active. Since the moral code gives rise to a lot of public policy and law, we're going to keep having this unresolvable argument.
  • by burndive ( 855848 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @06:32PM (#14440828) Homepage
    For a more philisophical take on nature and supernature, see C.S. Lewis' Miracles.
  • by ummit ( 248909 ) <> on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @06:47PM (#14441007) Homepage
    There's no mystery about how bees fly, and there hasn't been for quite a while. The notion that "science can't explain bee flight" is an urban legend, a meme. I didn't realize the ID folks had picked up on it, but I guess it's no surprise; seemingly all of their arguments are witheringly obsolete.

    I read about this in The Straight Dope [] ten or fifteen years ago. The Cal Tech folks seem to have added some new nuances to the discussion, but it was adequately understood long before this. The full story evidently goes back to the 1930s.

    Nothin to see here, folks, move along.

  • by kidtwist ( 726601 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @06:47PM (#14441011)
    When do you think we first began discovering fossils? Aristotle mentions in some of his writings finding fish fossils in broken rocks. He didn't quite know what they were (he figured they were a type of fish that lived in rocks), but he certainly records having found them.
  • by bhima ( 46039 ) <> on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @06:55PM (#14441074) Journal
    Most emphatically NO.

    ID exists exclusively as, and was created for, a tool to aid religious fundamentalists to do only a few things:

          Violate the constitution of the United States of America
          Cast doubt in the minds of young people in the fundamental working of the sciences
          Become the thin end of the wedge for the eventual goals of various forms of Christian Reconstructionism.

    ID has no basis in fact or reality.
    ID did not spring from spiritual thought but rather as a response to legal setbacks
    The religious extremists who promote ID repetitively have lied, deceived, cajoled, threatened, and even perjured themselves in their efforts to discredit science and get ID in the class room.

    I am all for religious tolerance and I am religious myself, but I absolutely will not tolerate dishonest and unethical religious extremists and I'm honestly outraged at the suggestion that I should.

    Having said all of that the ID comment in the submission is inappropriate but I can understand the sentiment.
  • by CFrankBernard ( 605994 ) <> on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @07:09PM (#14441222)
    Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, Volume II product_book_info&products_id=2655 []

    Creation's Tiny Mystery by Robert V. Gentry 36933189/104-3539345-2578349 []

    Bones Of Contention: A Creationist Assessment Of Human Fossils by Marvin L. Lubenow 36933445/104-3539345-2578349 []

    Evolution on Trial by Dr. Thomas Kindell [] (don't reading the excerpt; not representative)

  • by dubl-u ( 51156 ) * <2523987012@potaG ... minus herbivore> on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @07:54PM (#14441627)
    So Altshuler claims, without any supporting evidence, that unnamed "people" in the undefined "ID community" make a big deal out of the unknowability of bee flight mechanics, and that having disproved this unkowability, he's successfully countered their alleged arugment?

    I have personally heard this canard repeatedly from creationists. They will do it with pretty much anything that science doesn't have a ready answer to at the time. The bee one was popular because for a while it was a well-known unsolved problem that Bubba Sixpack could readily understand.

    Now, of course, they've switched sides on this one. Before, the mystery of bee flight was proof of God's majestic inscrutability. Now that we've scruted it, it's proof of how darned smart God is [].
  • by spyrral ( 162842 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @08:43PM (#14441972) Journal
    Intelligent Design has been shown to be a religiously motivated political movement. There are no "good ID" people tirelessly toiling away to find evidence of a designer. All of the work of the Intelligent Design movement involves two things:

    1. Finding "gaps" in science that they can exploit.

    2. Promoting the ID worldview in public life through political lobying on the local and national level.

    To say that there are "good ID" people out there doing honest work to further the scope of human knowledge is to reward their dishonesty.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @08:43PM (#14441976)
    > Reportedly, years ago a biologist and a physicist met over dinner or something,

    Actually it was nothing to do with 'biology' or 'physics'. It was an aeronautical engineer that calculated the Bumble Bee using current (1930s) aeronautical theories. There were discrepencies between the calculations and the testing results for small models used in wind tunnels and this was becoming more of a problem as the aircraft speeds were increasing with the new clean monoplane fighters (eg Spitfire).

    The calculation of the Bumble Bee was to show how far out the results were on very small scales. The resolution was that the current (1930s) theories did not take into account the Reynolds Number which increases as the scale gets smaller (basically the air gets more viscous at small scales). Once the calcultions incorporated this the model and the calculations became sufficiently in agreement.

  • by lysergic.acid ( 845423 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @09:24PM (#14442262) Homepage

    Religion is mostly static though. It's a reactionary force. People aren't encouraged to re-write the bible, or even question widely held Christian beliefs. That's the fundamental flaw of relious doctrines. Nothing new will be added to the bible in a hundred years, and, likewise, nothing new will be added to the body of knowledge in any other religion. Also, religion requires you to accept things to be true without any explaination. Most arguments against creationism are based on its conflicts with observable reality. This is different from the argument that because we don't know how bees fly, that evolution must be false. The first is proof by contradiction, the second is a non-sequitur.

  • by dotMantle ( 860523 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @09:58PM (#14442500)
    You could try An Index to Creationist Claims [], which is an attempt (by the science side) to figure out exactly what ID is claiming. It deals in detail with claims like Neanderthals were humans with rickets [], providing claim, source and rebuttal. A seriously interesting read.
  • by Copid ( 137416 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2006 @10:50PM (#14442792)
    And, I'd bet those "days" preceded the 'invention' of ID by years, or maybe even, decades?
    No, it probably just had a different name then. What do you think they'll call creationism when "Intelligent Design" falls out of fashion?
    But I have yet to encounter a SINGLE instance of an anti-ID debater engaging the 'strong' idea behind ID, which is the concept of "irreducible complexity"*. So far as I know, this idea has not even been addressed in any general discussion of ID, much less demolished! My guess is that 99% or more of those who have heard of ID via the popular media has NOT heard of "irreducible complexity".
    Irreducible complexity has been discussed in some depth. It essentially amounts to, "I can't think of a pathway for this, so it's impossible." A number of Behe's examples have been shown to have theoretical pathways, and the whole idea fails on one simple problem: an intermediate form of an "irreducibly complex" system that performs function X need not perform function X at all. If it performs function Y, that is sufficient.

    Specifically, there's a goodly list of publications that address some of his examples here []. Of course, with those examples taken care of, it's always possible to posit more irreducibly complex looking structures. You can do it forever, but it's still nothing more than god-in-the-gaps.

    AFAIK, both this concept, and the half dozen or so specific cases, were originally proposed by the biochemist, Michael Behe. His challenge, offered some 15 or so years ago, was that no biochemist or evolutionary biologist has offered even a plausible theoretical process by which such "irreducibly complex" biological systems could develop. I know that, in the interim, some claims have been made that such proposals have been made, but the references I can find all appear in 'popular' scientific media, and not in the peer-reviewed journals referred to in Behe's origial challenge. It's my understanding that Behe still considers his original challenge unanswered.
    You should read the transcript for the Dover Intelligent Design case. When 50+ journal articles describing theoretical pathways for one of his examples of irreducible complexity were listed to him, he didn't have a whole lot to say. He either hadn't read them or he dismissed them in their entirety. I'm sure he still does consider his challenge unmet, but the biolgical community at large certainly doesn't. In fact, Behe was taken to task for it rather sternly in the judge's decision.
  • by lpangelrob ( 714473 ) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @10:58AM (#14445591)
    Yikes. I don't speak King James. Give me a second...

    Mark 16:2-5

    2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"

    4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

    Matthew 28:1-3

    1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

    2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.

    Umm. Okay. So we're arguing about semantics.

    Mark says the stone had been rolled away in the past tense, when the women weren't there, end of story. Matthew 28:2 doesn't indicate that the event happened in the present; it is also written in the past tense. Seeing as the very event caused the guards to fall unconscious, I would personally consider it unlikely that the women were there (studies have been done to indicate that women faint just as much as men do, actually... but this is a freakin' angel!). Chronologically, Matthew 28:2 belongs before Matthew 28:1.

    That reconciles those two passages in my mind.

    Besides, these are second-hand accounts of the same event. None of the writers witnessed any of it first-hand. I wouldn't really expect two objective writers to come up with the same account of a given historical event, but I would expect it to be accurate. We barely know what happened in Tianamen Square, for comparison. Equality and accuracy are different concepts and the fact the observations aren't equal doesn't mean the observations aren't accurate.

    The Bible wasn't written by God, as in, He wasn't sitting at a desk writing the book. Most reasonable Christians believe that the different authors had the same spirit at work when they did put it on paper, or as they discussed it through oral history. The same with the choosing of which books go in. Given how well the parts of the Bible that cite each other do it, this is a logical conclusion.

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"