Bumblebees Can’t Fly, according to popular myth, and yet they do! (or what we can learn by embracing our inner bumblebee) Sunday’s “Coffee with Colm”

Bumblebees Can’t Fly – and yet they do!

Actually that phrase is scientifically incorrect however, being short and stubby, the bumblebee doesn’t look very flight-worthy and in the 1930s, French entomologist August Magnan noted that the insect’s flight is actually impossible, a notion that has stuck in popular consciousness since then.

But clearly it’s not true – we’ve all seen bumblebees buzz past us, moving from flower to flower, happy out. In fact it was because I saw one during the week that prompted me to put this piece together.

Picture a bumblebee with its short little wings compared to its often large body. Now picture a jet plane and imagine its wings proportionately as small (akin to those of our bee hero). Would you step on board? Nope. I wouldn’t either!

Why is that?

Aircraft wings are fixed and are engineered to produce lift by forcing air down, thus pushing the wing (and the plane they are attached to) up. The engines provide the forward motion; the wing itself does very little (although very important!) work. But the relationship of wing area to fuselage (aircraft body) is key; mess with that and you are courting disaster.

Bug wings are not fixed and unlike birds, they don’t flap up and down, but instead flap (badly) back and forth.

In an article on the Live Science website* (link below) I found a piece by Michael Dickinson, a professor of biology and insect flight expert at the University of Washington, who said:

Take your arm and put it out to your side, parallel to the ground with your palm facing down. Now sweep your arm forward. When you reach in front of you, pull your thumb up, so that you flip your arm over and your palm is upwards. Now, with your palm up, sweep your arm back. When you reach behind you, flip your hand over again, palm down for the forward stroke. Repeat. If you gave your hand a slight tilt (so that it’s not completely parallel to the ground), Dickinson said, you’d be doing something similar to a bug flap.

He goes on to say:

The wing sweeping is a bit like a partial spin of “somewhat crappy” helicopter blades, Dickinson said, but the angle to the wing also creates vortices in the airlike small hurricanes. The eyes of those mini-hurricanes have lower pressure than the surrounding air, so, keeping those eddies of air above its wings helps the bee stay aloft.

Why are we talking about bees at all Colm?

Watch the Video, (6 mins teaching) listen to the Podcast (6 mins teaching) or read on below to find out why you should embrace your inner bumblebee…

Prefer Podcast? Listen here.

Well, while I was watching a rather large bumblebee doing its thing during the week as I sat outside (with a coffee), I thought to myself, bumblebees fly, not because it is easy, nor because they were formed beautifully for flight, but simply to play their part in the preserving of our beautiful planet. Bumblebees fly because they have a job to do.

You see bees perform a task that is vital to the very survival of agriculture: pollination. In fact, one third of our global food supply is apparently pollinated by bees. Simply put, bees keep plants and crops alive. Without bees, humans would have to get very inventive, very quickly or the planet could be in trouble.

Bumblebees are mini superheros! And what to superheros do? – they save the planet!

It struck me that many of us are bumblebees too. Many of us are too small, too tall, too stubby, too skinny, too disadvantaged, too advantaged, too shy, too gregarious, too awkward, too suave, too poor, too rich, too dumb, too intelligent, too black, too white, too anything to allow us think of ourselves of ever being useful.

Many of us have been told by society, that if we are not a perfect height, weight, colour, with perfectly toned bodies and gleaming white teeth, wearing the latest fashion and swanning on a red carpet somewhere, that we have no value. Wrong!

My friend, remove all the red carpets in the world and a few carpet manufacturers might be upset; remove the bin men (or the bumblebees) from the planet and we have a problem!

What is your function in life (not necessarily your job)? What is your pollination effect?

Don’t tell me it’s nothing – or not much – because you and I know that’s not true; you have a vital role to play on this planet that only you can fulfill – a role that you can fulfill because of your circumstances not despite them. You and I may, like the bumblebee have to work harder and our flight pattern may be more like crappy helicopter blades than those we consider to be the perfectly formed jet planes around us to achieve the result we desire, but hey, hard work never killed anyone.

This weekend take some time to notice the humble bumblebee and use the image of this little superhero to propel you forward next week to do what you were put on this planet for and let no-one stop you. You see whatever role you are destined to play, if you don’t it won’t get played and the world will be the poorer for you not having done so.

And remember, all of us could take a lesson from the weather; it pays no attention to criticism!

Next week be the superhero you are supposed to be, play your part in saving the planet, and then see you here, same time next weekend for another “Coffee with Colm”.


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MORE. Did you enjoy that? Fancy a sniff at some of my other “Coffee with Colm” Blog posts:

  • Last week’s “Coffee with Colm” – “Allow Your Soul Catch Up With Your Body” – Click here.
  • What’s life all about? – Of Patchwork Quilts and Fur-lined Mousetraps – Click here.
  • How break free from the gravity of bad habits – Click here.

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Thanks for thinking with me.

Yours truly,


“How can I help?”

* https://www.livescience.com/33075-how-bees-fly.html

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One Response to “Bumblebees Can’t Fly, according to popular myth, and yet they do! (or what we can learn by embracing our inner bumblebee) Sunday’s “Coffee with Colm””
  1. Maeve Smyth

    Thanks Colm.

    I like that image of the fat stubby but very important bumble bee and you’re so right that our self image often doesn’t match up to the person we are and the important role we play in the world.

    Perhaps your theme was also inspired by the Spotlights show this year “Zero to Hero”. My girls, in thanking me for all the lifts into practises, have been telling me that not all heros wear capes. It makes me laugh but it’s also true.

    Parenting is the toughest job I’ve ever done and feeling guilty is such a common emotion for the things I wasn’t able to do, or the things I did wrong. But as I get older I try and focus instead on the substantially more items that I did right.

    So next weekend when I give my eldest the car for the first time (to drive to the Lime Tree for the Spotlight shows), although I’ll be very nervous, I also intend to stand back and metaphorically clap myself on the back for giving her her wings and letting her fly.


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