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There is a common belief that according to the known laws of physics, bumble bees should not be able to fly.

The quote usually goes something like this:

“Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn't know it so it goes on flying anyway.”

Have there been any papers published (or can someone show me some calculations) on bumble bee flight which dispels this myth?

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And if you don't know you are supposed to fall when jumping from a cliff, you don't? –  Alexis Dufrenoy Jun 27 '11 at 13:15
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I know this as a joke. Can you please provide some sources demonstrating that this is in fact a (at least somewhat) common belief? –  Konrad Rudolph Jun 27 '11 at 13:26
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@Konrad: I really didn't expect it to be in the Wikipedia article, but it is! Is that sufficient? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bumble_bee#Flight –  billynomates Jun 27 '11 at 14:05
    
Yes, it is. –  Konrad Rudolph Jun 27 '11 at 14:15
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It used to be a pretty common "argument" for fundamentalist creationists to try an "debunk" the theory of Evolution, until those mean scientists had to go and spoil their fun by actually figuring out how the principle worked. –  Shadur Jul 15 '11 at 13:27
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1 Answer 1

up vote 22 down vote accepted

This article Bumblebees finally cleared for takeoff is a good summary of a Cornell physicist's research in the year 2000 mathematically demonstrating and simulating why bees and similar insects can fly.

The computer-modeling accomplishment - which is expected to aid the future design of tiny insect-like flying machines and should dispel the longstanding myth that "bumblebees cannot fly, according to conventional aerodynamics"

The old bumblebee myth simply reflected our poor understanding of unsteady viscous fluid dynamics... Unlike fixed-wing aircraft with their steady, almost inviscid (without viscosity) flow dynamics, insects fly in a sea of vortices, surrounded by tiny eddies and whirlwinds that are created when they move their wings.

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This is a beautiful example for how models are really just that: Models. If calculations within a model predict something that is obviosuly wrong, then the model did not encompass the right ingredients necessary for a certain phenomena. –  Lagerbaer Jun 27 '11 at 20:56
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And the beautiful thing about science is that when we discover evidence that a model doesn't hold up, we adapt the model to account for the new facts. –  Shadur Apr 13 at 8:22
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