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.