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Biol Lett. 2014 Feb 5;10(2):20130922. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0922. Print 2014 Feb.

Surpassing Mt. Everest: extreme flight performance of alpine bumble-bees.

Author information

1
Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, , Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.

Abstract

Animal flight at altitude involves substantial aerodynamic and physiological challenges. Hovering at high elevations is particularly demanding from the dual perspectives of lift and power output; nevertheless, some volant insects reside and fly at elevations in excess of 4000 m. Here, we demonstrate that alpine bumble-bees possess substantial aerodynamic reserves, and can sustain hovering flight under hypobaria at effective elevations in excess of 9000 m, i.e. higher than Mt. Everest. Modulation of stroke amplitude and not wingbeat frequency is the primary means of compensation for overcoming the aerodynamic challenge. The presence of such excess capacity in a high-altitude bumble-bee is surprising and suggests intermittent behavioural demands for extreme flight performance supplemental to routine foraging.

KEYWORDS:

air density; altitude; hovering; hypobaria; insect; kinematics

PMID:
24501268
PMCID:
PMC3949368
DOI:
10.1098/rsbl.2013.0922
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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