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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Bumblebees Can Fly Higher Than Mount Everest, Scientists Find

By: Sandeep Ravindran

'Talk about a high-altitude buzz. Bumblebees may be capable of scaling Earth’s tallest peaks, flying higher than Mount Everest, according to new research.

It’s difficult for most insects and birds to fly at extremely high altitudes where the air is thin and oxygen is scarce. Flapping wings push against the air to generate lift, and the thinner the air, the less force those wings can produce.

Yet bumblebees are abundant in high alpine regions. Researchers have long wondered how these tiny flyers were able to navigate the challenges of high-altitude flight—and just how high bumblebees could go. (See intimate portraits of bees.)

“We wondered if these challenges—the reduced air density and oxygen—would limit how high bees can fly,” said Michael Dillon, a scientist at the University of Wyoming in Laramie who recently spent time with colleagues capturing bumblebees at 10,660 feet (3,250 meters) above sea level in China.

“The answer seems to be a resounding no,” he said. “They’re capable of flying very, very high.”

Dillon and his team of researchers found that the bees they collected could fly at air pressure equivalents exceeding 24,275 feet (7,400 meters) above sea level, equivalent to some of the lower peaks in Nepal’s Annapurna mountain range. Two bumblebees were able to fly at more than 29,525 feet (9,000 meters)—higher than Mount Everest.

“We were shocked at how high they could fly,” Dillon said.'

Read the rest at National Geographic.

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