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December 5, 2019


Bees 'surf' atop water. When stuck in water, bees create a wave and hydrofoil atop it, according to a new study. The motion they use, though labor-intensive, could one day be used to generate robots capable of flying and swimming.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

Cowa-bumble, dude!

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: surf guitar) When I heard about bees surfing, I got this visual of the little honey-drippers on tiny boards, in yellow and black-striped board shorts. Ok, they're not exactly shredding some gnarly curls (Sound effect: wave) but they are making waves at Caltech.

(Sound effect: outdoor sounds, pond, BEE) Walking next to a pond on campus, a research engineer saw a bee stuck flailing in the water. The noonday sun clearly cast the wave patterns on the bottom of the pond. The engineer saw potential in the patterns and brought the bee and his friends into the lab.

(Sound effect: action adventure music) There, the 'bee' team recreated conditions: Still water surface. Overhead filtered lights to show wave shadows. And high-speed camera for super slow-mo shots of 33 different honey bees, placed one at a time onto the water.

As the bee's wings touch the water, the underside sticks. The bee cannot lift them free. But the motion of the wings curving downward when pushing down the water, upward when pulling back up -- creates a wave that its body is able to ride forward -- or surf -- toward dry land. (Sound effect: bee: "whew!")

The team is applying their findings to robotics using a similar motion to navigate the surface of water or possibly develop robots that can swim and fly.

Stay tuned for the next episode of -- "Bee-watch."

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