Battle of the Bugs

At the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2009 Volkswagen unveiled its L1 model with an  estimated 170 miles per gallon.  The light chassis (it weighed 837 lbs) with a one cylinder yet surprisingly powerful diesel engine could cover 416 miles on one fill-up of its 2.6-gallon fuel tank “if the driver has a foot as light as a moonbeam,”  one of the reviewers wrote.    German engineers were justly proud of what they alleged to be a level of fuel efficiency never seen before in the auto world.  

The ordinary honey bee, by comparison, can convert fuel with an efficiency that might humble the wizards at Volkswagen.  In 1957, Brian Hocking, an English entomologist who was an associate professor at the University of Alberta in Canada, set out to calculate Bee Miles Per Gallon. He gave a beeall the honey she could eat before tethering her to a pole which, he alleged, neither harmed nor seemed to disturb her. She flew round and round until she ran out of fuel. It was not difficult to calculate how far the bee traveled on a belly of fuel and then to scale up to an imagined gallon-sized fuel tank.

Hocking died in 1974 but his experiment was repeated by the entomologist, Stephen Buchmann, at the University of Arizona.  Buchmann, who is the author of eleven books including The Forgotten Pollinators and The Reason for Flowers, has called bees "the ultimate hybrid mini-vehicles." Millions of years of evolution have produced muscles across the animal kingdom that are consistently more energy efficient than even the best human-built machines, he suggests,  but until he came across Hocking's data, he did not realize how much more efficient.

Buchmann concluded that on one sip of honey, our bee could fly continuously for approximately 5 miles; on a full stomach of honey, 50 miles.  And when he scaled up bee fuel intake to a gallon, he came up with an astonishing number - almost 5 000 000 miles.

In all transparency one has to point out differences of size, weight and durability but, said Buchmann, “that does not negate the fact that honeybees are super, super efficient, far more efficient than any kind of internal combustion engine that human engineers have ever devised. So yes, we're cheating a little bit, but if you want to think in terms of miles per gallon, no denying it: She got almost 5 million miles per gallon. Pretty darn impressive."

Meanwhile what happened to the Volkswagen LI, later the XLI?  As best I could find out, the last limited production of 200 cars was in 2014 and they were primarily electric, but the mileage was no better (they were two seaters with a bigger engine) and the price was in excess of $120 000. 

I think I will stick with the Honey Bee over the VW Beetle.  


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Latest comments

27.11 | 16:01

Moustache, wax? Of course. Now if all of the drones had mustaches ...

27.11 | 12:43

One of our club members says he got into beekeeping in order to make his own mustache wax. There's the explanation for the bearded/mustached ABF attendees!

13.08 | 05:43

Good morning Mr. Barnes, I'm so pleased to see the best of history teachers is still going strong! Looking at your website brings back some great memories

21.05 | 07:18

Its pleasure to read about Boy Scout here. He plays vital role to serve humanity. I will share after my