Effects of ambient oxygen tension on flight performance, metabolism, and water loss of the honeybee

Physiol Zool. Mar-Apr 1997;70(2):167-74. doi: 10.1086/639570.


Although the metabolic rate of resting insects is relatively insensitive to atmospheric O2 tensions, metabolic rates during flight increase by 20- to 100-fold above resting levels. In this study we test whether O2 delivery limits metabolic rate during unladen hovering flight of the honeybee, Apis mellifera. Below 10 kPa PO2, wing-stroke frequency decreased, and at 5 kPa, bees could not fly. However, for PO2's ranging from 39 to 10 kPa, metabolic rate and wing-stroke frequency were unaffected by PO2. Evaporative water loss rates increased by 40% at the lowest O2 tensions, which suggests that flying honeybees compensated for decreasing ambient PO2 by modulating convective ventilatory flow. Under normal sea-level conditions, O2 delivery does not limit flight metabolic rate in unladen, hovering honeybees and does not limit maximal metabolic rate. At altitudes above 3,000 m, the convective component of O2 delivery may, however, limit flight metabolic rate and flight capacity in honeybees.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / metabolism*
  • Body Temperature
  • Environment*
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • Oxygen*
  • Partial Pressure
  • Thorax / physiology
  • Water Loss, Insensible*
  • Wings, Animal / physiology


  • Oxygen