Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Flight of the Bumblebee

You probably have heard Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov‘s Flight of the Bumblebee at some point in your life. I have too; it’s an iconic piece of music, and really does seem to capture the flight of a bumble quite well.  It was also used as the theme music for the Green Hornet on both radio and television.

What I didn’t know was that the piece was part of an opera called “The Bumble-bee Prince” or “The Tale of Tsar Sultan.”  In fact, there were two additional pieces, “Flight of the Mosquito” and “Flight of the Fly”, that were left out of the  final opera.

That opera was based on a traditional Russian folk tale in which an exiled prince is changed into several different insects in order to (among other things) see his father, spy on usurpers of his throne, and sting people who pissed him off.

I’m kind of embarassed I didn’t know any of this, both as an entomologist and classical music lover. It kind of makes sense I never questioned WHY Rimsky-Korsakov wrote music for a bumblebee; I would too if I had the talent! Bumblebees are very worthy of musical praise.

But the music is much more fascinating now that I know the story behind it.

I also want to take this opportunity to debunk–AGAIN–that old canard that says that scientists can’t explain how bumblebees can fly. It shows up regularly in creationist arguments, and was the lead quote on the Bee Movie (Shame on Seinfeld!).    You can’t explain how bumblebees can fly if you use equations for fixed wings, like on a plane. But bumblebees have amazing flexible wings that allow them to perform all sorts of aerial acrobatics.

So there are your two factoids for the day.

What interesting bit of background information did you learn this week?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.


Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really! If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

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  1. I found out that Ina Drew, of JP Morgan infamy, and subject of the cover story of the New York Times Magazine this Sunday, was the very same Ina who sat next to me in home room in my freshman year of high school!!

  2. Bug_girl, I thought you’d be talking about how the bees are influenced by M&Ms get coloured honey. (Fact: Bees are being influenced by M&Ms produce coloured honey.)

    [Although you could be working on this article anyway…]

    1. Actually Jamas, I wouldn’t say the bees are “influenced” by M&Ms, just that it makes their honey colored.
      It’s probably perfectly safe to eat, there just isn’t a market for blue honey :)

      News Story

  3. I learned on this weeks Caustic Soda Podcast that bees can be trained to detect contraband with their incredible sense of smell!

  4. Love this post… I used to play that song on the piano, had no idea it was from an opera or that there were other “flights of…” songs. Awesome lol

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