Wings and Flight
Margaret Thomas NDB
Scientific Beekeeping
Scientific Beekeeping
One other function of the indirect wing muscles is to help regulate the temperature of the inside of the hive. The bees can power their indirect wing muscles without engaging the wing – very useful in winter and when brood rearing to maintain the correct brood temperature.
Small direct wing muscles work in conjunction with four sclerites located in the base of the wings to alter the angle of the wings to change the angle of the leading edge and allow the leading edge of the wing to be pronated on the down stroke and supinated on the up-stoke. Thus the wings in flight form a figure of eight. Altering the slant of the wings allows forward flight, backward flight, fanning scent dispersal and hovering.

The diagrams below which have been edited from the originals
Image 1 from the David Cushman Website:
Image 2 from The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Beekeeping Morse and Hooper
Image 3 & 4 Copyright the International Bee Research Association. Reproduced with permission Anatomy & Dissection of the Honey Bee H.A.Dade and also the plates:
Images 1-4 edited by Jackie Elliott
Image 5 copyright Jackie Elliott
This information is based on an article that appeared in the Scottish Beekeeper Magazine in April 2017
The bees in common with other insects have 2 pairs of wings. In the bee the forewings are much larger than the hind wings. When the wings are not in use they are folded over the body, the hind wings under the forewings. On unfurling for action, the hind wings engage automatically onto the forewings using hooks fitting into a groove at the rear of the forewings. This enlarges the size of the wings in use, but reduces the size to fit snugly over the abdomen at rest. A very clever adaptation saving space and allowing the bee to access the cells of the comb.
Image 1: Inferior view of the Left Wing
Image 2: Lateral View of the Left Side of the Thorax
Image 3
Image 4
The wings are attached at the sides of the thorax. The wings are supported on the edge of the pleural plates and behave a bit like a seesaw with unequal length of arms. This means that any small movement of the notum (dome) is translated into large movement of the wings up or down. The notum is deformed by the large strong indirect muscles that fill the thorax. As the thorax is a rigid box, changing the shape of the thorax is only possible if there is a hinge in some part of the thorax. This hinge is the scutal fissure, a section in the sides of the thorax where the exoskeleton is thinner so allowing the thorax to change shape. Contraction of the vertical wing muscles flattens the dome of the thorax opening the scutal fissure, alternately contraction of the longitudinal wing muscles raises the dome of the thorax and closes the scutal fissure.
This is how the wings are moved: Contraction of the vertical wing muscles, (and relaxation of the longitudinal wing muscles), depress the dome of thorax putting pressure on the short section of the wings where they rest on the pleural plates – the fulcrum. The seesaw effect moves the wings up. Then the longitudinal wing muscles, and relaxation of the vertical wing muscles, take over and their contraction raises the dome resulting in the downturn of the wings. The action of the wing muscles is automatic (the stretch reflex) once initiated by nerve control, beating up to 180 beats a minute. The bee can fly at an equivalent of up to 22mph!
Image 5
Section through thorax showing londitudinal muscles
Jackie Elliott