Could a bee the size of a person fly?

22 March 2016

Question

If a japanese honey bee was as large as a person, could they fly? And how much heat could their wings produce?

Answer

Chris Basu, expert in animal biomechanics, answered Ultraviolet's question... Chris Basu - Yes, it's a great question. Just the imagery you know, imagining a bee the size of a person, it's great. But we do have this problem when we talk about scaling small animals up to larger sizes. If you imagine a cube, if you double the size of that cube, you actually increase it's weight by eight times and that's just a generalised law of scaling. When you scale up a bee to the size of a human, if you keep the shape and size of the wings the same, the wings actually become too small for the bee to get enough lift to get off the ground. The muscles are too small and also the material properties are just not good enough any more. The wings might become overly heavy, they might just break before anything actually happens; there's no way they'd be able to get off the ground. But there's fundamental problems as well; bees don't actually have lungs. They rely on the normal diffusion of air going from the outside into the inside of the body through a network of tubes and if you scale a bee up.

Chris - But aren't we the same? Don't we have a network of tubes that carry air from the outside into the inside of the body?

Chris Basu - We do, but we're active breathing, so we actively draw air into our chest and then we've got circulation which distributes the oxygen around our body but bees don't really have that so there's a size limitation that they can get to before they would just suffocate. So, if you imagine a bee the size of a human, it wouldn't last long at all, it would just fall over and die very quickly.

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