Effects of load type (pollen or nectar) and load mass on hovering metabolic rate and mechanical power output in the honey bee Apis mellifera

Erica Feuerbacher, Jennifer Fewell, Stephen P. Roberts, Elizabeth F. Smith, Jon Harrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


In this study we tested the effect of pollen and nectar loading on metabolic rate (in mW) and wingbeat frequency during hovering, and also examined the effect of pollen loading on wing kinematics and mechanical power output. Pollen foragers had hovering metabolic rates approximately 10% higher than nectar foragers, regardless of the amount of load carried. Pollen foragers also had a more horizontal body position and higher inclination of stroke plane than measured previously for honey bees (probably nectar foragers). Thorax temperatures ranked pollen > nectar > water foragers, and higher flight metabolic rate could explain the higher thorax temperature of pollen foragers. Load mass did not affect hovering metabolic rate or wingbeat frequency in a regression-model experiment. However, using an analysis of variance (ANOVA) design, loaded pollen and nectar foragers (mean loads 27% and 40% of body mass, respectively) significantly increased metabolic rate by 6%. Mean pollen loads of 18% of body mass had no effect on wingbeat frequency, stroke amplitude, body angle or inclination of stroke plane, but increased the calculated mechanical power output by 16-18% (depending on the method of estimating drag). A rise in lift coefficient as bees carry loads without increasing wingbeat frequency or stroke amplitude (and only minimal increases in metabolic rate) suggests an increased use of unsteady power-generating mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1855-1865
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 2003


  • Apis mellifera
  • Flight metabolism
  • Honey bee
  • Insect
  • Loading
  • Power output
  • Wing kinematics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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