How a Honey Bee’s Waggle is Inspiring Aerospace Design

By Leslie Mertz, Ph.D.

The next time you see a bee land on a flower, watch how busy its abdomen is. It scrunches up, it lengthens, and it curls this way and that with amazing flexibility. A group of engineers at Tsinghua University in Beijing has now found that a quite surprising mechanism is involved in that movement, and this mechanism could possibly help in the design of rocket nose cones that need to morph into different shapes to accommodate the aerodynamics, mobility, and flight control required to punch through and re-enter the atmosphere. The findings are reported in a new study published in May in the open-access Journal of Insect Science.

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The engineers focused on honey bees (Apis mellifera), which have very lively abdominal movements that are showcased during the waggle dance they perform to communicate with other members of their hive about the location of a prime flower patch. To figure out how the insects move, the engineers carefully dissected honey bees and viewed microstructures of their abdomens using a scanning electron microscope, and they also used a high-speed camera to record the wiggles of additional living honeybees, according to study co-author Shaoze Yan, Ph.D., of Tsinghua University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

 

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