In a speech in 2008, Mike Huckabee declared, “Aerodynamic engineers once figured out that… it is aerodynamically impossible for the bumble bee to fly. But the bumble bee, being unaware of these scientific facts, goes ahead and flies anyway.”
Creationists and other anti-science factions like to gleefully toss around this little tidbit. To them, this ridiculous notion underscores the folly of scientists, a useless, arrogant group that cannot prove anything of real value.
To these people, I will not mention vaccines, or computers, or electricity, or any of the other ways in which science has enriched their lives. I will not bring up the fact that while there are many phenomena unexplained by science, this doesn’t discredit the field, but rather gives job security to future scientists like myself. What I will say is that this idea that it is scientifically impossible for bumble bees to fly is, in fact, false. For some more details, here’s an article written by Cecil Adams, the self-described “world’s smartest human.”
During a 2010 trip to Punta Arenas, Chile, however, I caught sight of a bee so large that I had to admit its flight seemed an impossibility.
It’s a shame that there is no size reference in this photo. In the magical realm of memory, I seem to remember it being between the sizes of a jumbo gumballs and a table tennis ball. This bee, which, to the annoyance of my host, I kept referring to as “la abeja más grande que he visto,” is clearly a Bombus as evidenced by her large, fuzzy body; the wings folded across the back; and the smooth, flattened hind legs (or corbicula).
While I have not been able to ascertain the exact species of this bumble bee, from an informal communication I have learned that it is native to Chile. In recent years, populations these beautiful giants, as well as other bumble bees in North and South America, have been dwindling. Robbin Thorp, a bee expert from UC Davis, thinks that the main reason for these declines has to do with the use of domestic bumblee bee colonies to pollinate crops. Let’s hope that we will find ways to save these bumbling creatures so that they can continue their not-so-impossible flight for generations to come.
Wait– domestic bumble bees, you say? Please tune in next week to hear about the practice of keeping bumble bees and how it might affect the natives.