Mechanisms of Thermorégulation in Flying Bees'

Stephen P. Roberts, Jon Harrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


SYNOPSIS. Thermorégulation of elevated thorax temperatures is necessary for bees to achieve the high rates of power production required for flight, and is a key factor allowing them to occupy widely varying thermal environments. However, the mechanisms by which bees thermoregulate during flight are poorly understood. Thermorégulation is accomplished by balancing heat gain and heat loss via the following routes: convection, evaporation, and metabolic heat production. There appears to be a diversity of thermoregulatory mechanisms employed during flight among bee species. Some species, particularly Bambus spp., actively increase the distribution of thoracic heat to the abdomen during flight as air temperature (Ta) rises, and apparently thermoregulate by varying convective heat loss. However, thermal variation in convection has not been directly measured for any free-flying bee. Above 33°C, flying Apis mellifera greatly increase evaporative heat loss with Ta, and many other species "tongue-lash" during flight at high Tas or when artificially heated. Thus, evaporation seems to be important for preventing overheating during flight at very high Tas. Flying A. mellifera and Centris pallida strongly decrease metabolic rate as Ta increases, suggesting that they are varying metabolic heat production for thermorégulation and not aerodynamic requirements. Variation in metabolic heat production appears to be mediated by changes in wingbeat kinematics, since wingbeat frequency decreases with Ta for A. mellifera and Centris spp. It is unknown if the decrease in flight metabolic rate at higher Tas occurs secondarily as a consequence of greater efficiency or if it is truly an active response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)492-502
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Zoologist
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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