Hum and haw

Never proclaim that bees hum, because you might cause offence!

Ten-day old fish hum and old trainers certainly hum (especially when wet), but bees … well bees bombinate.

Some bombinate so much they’re called bombinating bees, or bumble bees (the Bombus species).

Now while this may seem rather ho-hum there is a difference between bombinating and buzzing. A bee bumbling around is bombinating. Steady, stable flight produces a regular, even sound ranging from a high pitched whine in little bees to a more throaty drone from the bigger bees.

Buzzing is something else. It’s episodic, and it doesn’t involve wing-flapping. Instead, the bees ‘uncouple’ their flight muscles and use them to vibrate their body. It’s a useful trick that allows the bees to double the frequency of vibration to over 200 shakes per second.

With a typical buzz lasting just short of a second, that’s a lot of shaking. It’s certainly enough to knock the pollen off the flower’s anthers onto the bee in a process known as buzz-pollination, or sonication.

Honey bees haven’t mastered sonication. Instead they buzz to communicate in hive and to keep warm.

You hear a loud ‘buzzing’ from the hives during a nectar flow, when the bees fan their wings to turn watery nectar into honey. The aroma and noise from the hive on these occasions is heady, you could almost say … it hums!

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