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In case you've been wondering, the verdict is in: evolution beats engineering.

No matter how efficient we make our vehicles, they're never going to be as efficient as a honey bee. NPR's Robert Krulwich recently brought the efficiency of bees to our attention with a piece comparing the little honeymaker to the Volkswagen L1 concept, which VW called ""the most fuel-efficient automobile in the world." Sure, the L1 gets 170 miles per gallon, but what happens when you figure out how far a bee could go on a gallon of honey? Using an interesting tie-a-bee-to-a-pole method, Canadian scientist Brian Hocking calculated Bee Miles Per Gallon back in 1957.

We won't spoil the real number here; we'll just say that it's a four followed by six digits (!). Should we ever come close to reaching that mark with our vehicles, it's likely that bees will have evolved to be even more efficient in the intervening millennia. Still, let's not give up the fight.

[Source: NPR | Image: aussiegall - C.C. License 2.0]


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 51 Comments
      harlanx6
      • 5 Years Ago
      Weight has to be figured in. MPG/lb. The bee has been going through for millions of years the same process that autos will still be going through to infinity, that is mazimizing design efficiency, in the bee's case through an evolutionary process of trial and error.
      • 5 Years Ago
      What a stupid comparison!!!!!

      So what is the size of bee - 1/4 of a inch and 1 gallon is . . . how many time bigger than bee? Or how many bees you could put in 1 gallon? Say 1000. That means that you would have to compare 1 bee and 1 Gallon vs. 1 VW and 1 unit that corresponds to 1000 volumes of VW. I bet you that VW would not trail bee in this comparison.

      Some people obviously have nothing more to do . . . .
      • 5 Years Ago
      Fun comparison... silly, but fun.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Here's some quick and dirty math...

      The average honey bee weighs approx 4 grams. Figure an aggressively light economy can weighs somewhere around 2000 lbs, that's around 907,185 bees. So you can divide your bee/honey mpg by 907,185 to get you a bit closer to similar work loads.

      However, in trying to find the average weight of a honey bee, I did discover that the average worker honey bee has a 814 kilometer (or 506 mile) life span. So I think most of that honey would remain in the pot...
        • 2 Months Ago
        4,000,000/907,185 = 4.4 mpg if bees had equal mass to the econo-car... they should have compared the bee to some kind of personal flight, like a helicopter or a jet pack. This is just bad science, and never should have been aired on NPR.
      • 5 Years Ago
      A better comparison would be to a human walking and here the Vw actually can compete, even if it's just in the fuel used to move from a to b maybe not in the total foot print from factory to junkyard.

      Walking or running one kilometre requires approximately 70 kcal or 330 kJ of food energy. This equates to about 1 L/100 km or 235 mpg in gasoline energy terms.

      So in terms of energy, this vehicle could be more efficient than Walking to work, especially if you have both seats occupied.
        • 2 Months Ago
        But put that person and a bike and compare.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Well they should all be able to beat that honey bee. He looks dead.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "the verdict is in: evolution beats engineering"

        That's only because evolution has a several-billion-year head start. Given enough time, engineering will beat evolution, and it will do so in much less time than a few million years.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I highly doubt that. Humans are too full of themselves to exist long enough to get to that point. We'll do ourselves in far before we're smart enough to figure out we'd doing ourselves in. Just look at this forum and Autoblog to get a taste of the troglodytes roaming around.
      • 5 Years Ago
      But what would the bee's mileage be if it had to include an on-board (on-insect?) airbag? :)
      • 5 Years Ago
      Did you mean: "It's Friday: even the most efficient cars can't compete with bees in MPG fight" ?

      BEEES!
        • 5 Years Ago
        um, yes. thanks. headline has been changed.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "even the most efficient cars can't compete with car in MPG fight"

      Cars can't compete with cars?

      I hope this story is trying to be cute, but it fails there.

      If it's trying to be serious, it's way off. As others indicate, the mass differential needs to be taken into account. Cargo capacity? How about crash protection?

      Poor analogy. Not cute.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I thought the tiny bike story did it, but this story takes the pointless mania for efficiency and smallness to its absurd conclusion.

      It's not about fuel efficiency!!

      Improved efficiency does not lead to less pollution, because economic growth and population growth lead to so many more cars and drivers and so much more driving, that that resulting increased fuel usage overwhelms any efficiency gains.

      And even if it didn't, and the whole world suddenly used less gasoline, OPEC could just slash production to spike the per-unit price, and make just as much as before on reduced sales volume. Thus the terrorists, death cult spreading, nuclear weapons programs, etc. roll right along, unaffected.

      The only solution is to GET OFF OIL.

      If you're using a fuel that is clean-burning, consistently affordable (because it can't be controlled by a cartel), renewable, and doesn't fund crazies, WHO CARES if you burn lots of it? If you have a big monster rip-snorting fuel-guzzling vehicle?

      Nobody other than bitter Puritan extremists angry that others might be enjoying life instead of living in forced "virtuous" austerity.
        • 2 Months Ago
        "If you're using a fuel that is clean-burning, consistently affordable (because it can't be controlled by a cartel), renewable, and doesn't fund crazies, WHO CARES if you burn lots of it?"

        Well, anyone who cares about deforestation and agricultural sustainability, for one. We need and will need even more in the future our farmland for feeding the world since the oceans are collapsing and the difference will have to come from somewhere. It makes a big difference if you burn lots of it.
        • 2 Months Ago
        TheTom, cellulosic alcohol has existed for centuries; it's called methanol. No need for years of delay and hundreds of millions in expensive pointless research.

        Ethanol and methanol together are the way to take down the oil cartel.

        Ethanol made from plain old boring sugar and starch plant matter.

        Methanol from natural gas, coal, and inedible biomass.
        • 2 Months Ago
        Carney: "The only solution is to GET OFF OIL.

        If you're using a fuel that is clean-burning, consistently affordable (because it can't be controlled by a cartel), renewable, and doesn't fund crazies, WHO CARES if you burn lots of it? If you have a big monster rip-snorting fuel-guzzling vehicle?"

        I may be the biggest electric vehicle proponent on this board but I have to agree with Carney here. I honestly don't care HOW we get off oil. I prefer electric but Carney prefers Ethanol and biodiesel. Fine. Let's just get moving to GET US OFF OIL.

        It's like having enough solar panels on your roof to make all the energy you could possibly use. Who cares if you use 500, 1000 or even 2000 kilowatt hours a month. You are making all your own power and not polluting no matter how many kilowatt hours you use. Biofuels will allow America to do the same thing with our transportation fuels and doesn't require radically changing our vehicles or fuel infrastructure overnight.

        =GUOO
        • 2 Months Ago
        CARNEY:

        Get your head out of your behind. OPEC was created because the oil producing countries were being ransacked and raped by people from your country and other charming western powers.

        You are so blind to the truth that having a discussion with you is impossible. Learn the history of your country first before you demonize everyone else and put yourself up on a one-legged pedestal.

        Who the hell do you think you are to state people in other parts of the world are humane and civilized while you go about criticizing people in the regions of the world that have other interests than you do? What makes you so special? Your country's heritage has nothing but war and killing in it.....tell me what part of that is humane to you, you self-centered jerk?

        Your racist attitude disgusts me. At the very least admit what you are and what your country participates in. Take of those peace-goggles given to you by Halliburton and Co. for a change.
        • 2 Months Ago
        Nozferat, I blame those who deserve it.

        OPEC, more than anyone or anything else, is responsible for gas prices being artificially high, far more so than when the "Seven Sister" major oil companies dominated the market pre-1970 (all but two of them American). Economic growth pre 1970 was far higher and has never recovered. That has had real consequences.

        OPEC uses that money which it loots from the productive and humane rest of the world, and squanders it on luxury, internal repression, and propagating and arming various strains of violent death cults that hate us and want to kill as many of us as possible.

        These are realities of modern life no anti-American ravings can obscure.

        Mark_BC, let's talk about sustaining things. I'll tell you what modern agriculture has sustained - humanity. Without it billions would have starved. And progress continues in the face of Malthusian predictions to the contrary. Just since 2002, US corn yields per acre are up more than 20%. Given their far more primitive starting points, how much greater could the improvements in the tropics be, without using any more land at all? More than half of US farmland is idle, uncultivated.

        Each gallon of petroleum used to make it yields more than ten gallons of corn ethanol. I'm indifferent to the efficiency-mania mental virus that infects the minds of and narrows the vision so many greens; I care more about clean air and water, and destroying OPEC; but that kind of efficiency impresses me and should be enough for any but the most fanatical green.
        • 2 Months Ago
        Stop blaming it on OPEC you fool...you think your precious US of A doesn't have its own interests when it comes to oil?
        • 2 Months Ago
        Carney, maybe in hypothetical economics land, but it is inevitable that increasing agricultural demand will increase deforestation and speed up land degradation, no one could ever seriously argue against that.

        This high yield efficient agriculture you speak of doesn't really exist -- it is dependent on high fossil fuel inputs, lots of fertilizers and pesticides, and because of this it degrades the soil. Most of the naturally productive farmland in the tropics has already been converted over to farmland and the remainder cannot be sustainably managed this way. And in many arid to semi arid areas this kind of intensive farmland requires lots of irrigation, which has two problems: firstly, we are running out of fresh water, and secondly, you can only do that for a few decades before the soil becomes saline and unusable.

        And biofuel production in America is so inefficient that the fossil fuel savings are arguably negligable to nil, although that depends alot on the particular circumstances -- the emissions just shift from oil to natural gas. But if your aim is to get off imported oil it will achieve that but it is not a log term solution. Also, you can kiss goodbye any fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico, although they have already been mostly destroyed already from agricultural runoff.
        • 2 Months Ago
        Alcohol fuel won't cause deforestation. The world ag sector has enormous slack unused capacity - rich countries because we pay our farmers not to farm to prop up prices and farm incomes, and poor countries because they are walled out of our markets and thus have no reason to adopt high yield modern cash crop agriculture that would let them enter modernity and abandon slash-and-burn subsistence.

        A shift to alcohol fuel would go a long way to solving all those problems. Suddenly our farmers would have all the demand for product they can possibly handle, and much more. Our stupid restrictions on farmers not being able to farm would be dropped as would our tarrifs walling out 3rd world produce, without threatening our farm incomes. Poor farmers in the tropics would have an incentive to invest in efficient, high yield per acre techniques and would farm cash crops for export to us, getting a piece of the action, their share of our enormous fuel spending that formerly only further enriched the corrupt, depraved, and murderously insane leadership in various viper's nests in the Mideast.
        • 2 Months Ago
        Corn Ethanol is eventually going to be replaced by cellulosic and biomass produced ethanol. The yields per acre are far greater and it does not impact food crops.
        http://www.sjcarc.org/AgMapReport2009.pdf
        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090202174934.htm
        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081013194043.htm
      • 5 Years Ago
      "evolution beats engineering" WOW!

      Yes, natural evolution always wins out. Now, let's extrapolate this into the economics, political and legal landscape ...

      Austrian Free Market (natural) beats Keynesian Central Planning (engineering) EVERY time.

      Now, a caviot. This ONLY works when:

      1) Politicians & Judges APPLY Constitutional Limits on Gov’t power including the 10th Amendment. This is why our founders secured our natural rights FROM the Fedral Monopoly.

      –and-

      2) Politicians & Judges don’t INTERPRET the Constitution to expand their power & reach so they can engage in crony-corporatist redistribution in order to secure campaign contributions & other support from special interest groups.

      Using the power of gov't to create monopolies (corporate or union) and to set the Free Market off kilter by redistributing taxpayer money replaces the NATURAL "Risk/Gain" balance with too big to fail aka "Privatized Gain/Socialized Risk". This central planning CAUSES the moral hazard and economic decay by destroying all incentives to “do unto others”. Look at the state of the world's economy under today's Global Progressive-Socialism.

      Natural beats Engineering? Yes, John Maynard Keyne’s Economic Engineering was a curse and a plague on all Humanity!
        • 2 Months Ago
        Mark_BC:

        Mark, I guess you can't read. Italy is bankrupt and the EU is on the point of a knife and ready to disband because the fiat EURO is dying. Yep, the Socialized European nations are about 5-years ahead of the United States. Closer to home, look at the People's Republic of California. It is so heavily taxed and regulated that the productive people are leaving… CA is bankrupt. CA can’t pay it’s bills. Progressive Social Engineering destroys nations financially, ethically and morally!

        The Soviets would NOT move to free markets, so they died. CA Progressives refuse to acknowledge their failure (hubris) so they are dying. The further the Chinese move AWAY from Social Engineering and Mao, the RICHER and more FREE their people become. Now, ObaMao and the Progressives in Congress are trying to tax, regulate and spend our way into prosperity. IDIOTS!

        There is NO such thing as Utopia because if that fantasy DID exist, mankind would have no hardship to overcome, would cease to improve, then stagnate, then decay. Just like EVERY nation that has tried to become a Progressive Centrally Engineered Utopia.
        • 2 Months Ago
        Tim: How do you propose that government should prevent the formation of monopolies?
        • 2 Months Ago
        GoodCheer;

        You may find this article interesting and on-point:

        Fear of Monopoly
        http://mises.org/story/621
        • 2 Months Ago
        @Tim

        First, I said 'many' markets not 'all' markets.
        Second, your big examples of free market then are government funded prize contests!?
        Third, none of the companies scrambling for x-prize cash are established profitable companies that have competed against behemoths like ford, gm, honda etc - especially in a non regulated market.
        Fourth, "all advancements from free market" .... so I guess cars have not become safer or more efficient under government regulation in your alternative universe then!?

        Final... now of course political cronyism and corruption are huge problems but deregulation is CERTAINLY not the way forward there.
        Your assertion that such shenanigans are only from 'progressives' is just unimaginably silly. I can not even begin to think of a word to describe it. I'll just use absurd.

        All in all sir you are a zealot with an overly simplified and unproven pet theory. One which does not even take into account the simplest elements of that theory as presented in any economic text.
        And while I should know better than to engage someone such as yourself on these topics, whenever I see a single unanswered harangue such as your original post sitting unchallenged I cannot help myself.
        I always worry some child will come along and think the lack of response means it must be what most people actually think.

        Yes... that's it. I feed the trolls to protect the children.
        • 2 Months Ago
        Mark_BC.

        OK, another example... Iceland!
        • 2 Months Ago
        @Tim

        No, you miss my point entirely.
        In purely theoretical terms (but also in practice), a deregulated market is not necessarily a free market. In fact, many would not be. This is due to prohibitively high costs of entry mostly.
        It's a little basic requirement for a market to function freely which most seem to miss.
        The right does like to push this idea that dergulation = = free markets == mom and baseball and apple pie and even the natural order.
        But in fact, deregulation of many markets would just == price gauging, risk ignorant oligopolies.
        • 2 Months Ago
        "Anyone who blames "deregulation" for today's financial problems are simply ignorant to the fact that the market has been heavily regulated since W. Wilson put our money Supply and Policy in the hands of private bankers"

        Except you are missing an important observation from the real world --- those countries which maintained stricter regulation of their financial industries fared much better through the financial collapse.

        But, keep your unsubstantiated pet theories coming.

        Ultimately, the US's financial problems stem from free market competition from China, which sucked the manufacturing base out of the economy and left millions without decent jobs. Yet the economists and US consumers were still under the illusion that they could continue living extravagant lives because the widget chart says so; all they had to do is get a job at a fast food joint. And the banking industry was quick to capitalize on this illusion and keep this going for as long as they could, until it inevitably collapsed.

        That's the problem with economists - they don't understand the underlying physical and biological underpinnings supporting our economies, because they expend no effort in learning about it. Instead, they spend way too much time with their noses in theoretical economics textbooks. And then they think they have some superior moral authority to come here and lecture others about those widget charts. Sorry ..... it's not gonna fly here.
        • 2 Months Ago
        To Tim,

        Regarding Iceland: It's interesting that you bring this country up as an example. It got hit hard in the financial crisis because over the last few years it developed its financial industry as fishing collapsed, and loosened regulations on its banks. By contrast, Canada resited free market temptations to deregulate its financial sector, and the only bank to be hurt in teh crisis was CIBC, and that's only because it invested in US sub prime mortgages. No Canadian bank went belly up.

        To Sir Vix,

        I have two points: firstly, compare the wages of your window washing job to one in manufacturing. Secondly, the only reason your economy hasn't totally collapsed is because Obama is spending like there's no tomorrow. You still have no economic base that anyone else in the world wants (in order to offset your trade deficit). I don't envy Obama's position.
        • 2 Months Ago
        Thanks Tim.

        But I can't say I found that article very on-point. My question was "How do want government to keep monopolies from forming" and your answer was "don't worry, they won't form, or if they do form their market control (and the damage to society associated with it) will only be temporary and eventually something else will crop up to compete."

        To look at one of the examples they gave, if Boeing bought Airbus, they claim that Beechcraft / Lear would move into that space. I would argue that any smart management of Boeing/Airbus could then dramatically undercut the prices of any new larger offering from it's competitors, since as a monopoly it would be rolling in profit, and so drive them back out of that market (like the rail barons did). Or simply refuse to sell any planes to any airline that bought any competitor's products (like Gore does with Gore-tex). Or just buy those much smaller companies (like the American auto companies did).

        I find that an absolutely unsatisfying answer.
        Don't you?
        • 2 Months Ago
        "look at the People's Republic of California. It is so heavily taxed and regulated that the productive people are leaving… CA is bankrupt."

        That has nothing to do with socialism. It is because California and Florida fell into the death spiral trap of relying on real estate development to become a major source of revenue (everyone wanted to move there, and in a free market like the US no one can stop them). The extra burden of infrastructure costs related to expanding that real estate development (sewers, electricity, roads and other services), funded by that new real estate development itself, led to the death spiral which only ended when the real estate bubble collapsed. Many people saw this coming way before it actually happened (myself included).

        "Italy is bankrupt and the EU is on the point of a knife and ready to disband because the fiat EURO is dying."

        Interesting that you cherry picked poor examples to support your arguments, yet you provide no specifics as to WHY Italy's economy is falling apart. Is it simply a result of debt accumulation to maintain services, and not enough revenue to fund this? And why would that be? Can you explain how increased government control leads to such problems? Is it because in the face of such control free enterprise moves to China? Well, here's news for you -- they will move there regardless, because they have no environmental regulations and labour is so cheap. I think Italy's problems (and it's neighbours') are a little more complex than simply religiously thumping on a free market supply demand chart as the solution to all our economic problems, when the whole industrialized world from Europe to North America faces free market competition with China. I noticed you haven't addressed my point about China stealing all of the US's manufacturing base.

        "There is NO such thing as Utopia because if that fantasy DID exist, mankind would have no hardship to overcome, would cease to improve, then stagnate, then decay."

        Yadda yadda yadda well if you want, you can compare the economic well being of residents of Scandinavia with the US. You already compared Italy now please focus on some other European countries to balance out your slanted viewpoint.
        • 2 Months Ago
        Marc BC....

        I don't know if you noticed, but us first world countries are in this here thing called the "information age" ... don't know if you've heard of it. You can complain all you want about manufacturing jobs, even though it isn't nearly as bad as you describe in the US. 10% unemployment? 10% of people refuse to change. Why does my home town and current residence of detroit have a 10-20% unemployment?.... with all the stories about the gloomy crowded job fairs...... when i myself can walk to my county office and get a DBA for $15, order a hundred dollars worth of supplies, make some forms on excel, and go start a commercial window cleaning business and have however much work and money i want, which i've done. Why does my almost-college-graduate girlfriend have new job offers every week, 3 months before she's even graduated, that are all still in our area? Because she took it upon herself to make herself wanted by companies, when she and I could have been and at times would rather have been sitting on our asses.

        If you can't find a job, it's because you've got nothing anyone wants, and only you, not the gov't or obama can change that. But they need to get elected, so they can never TELL you that. That's why michigan has a 10-20% unemployment rate (based on the county) BUT YET STILL have plenty of fields that ARE in demand... and even if not, go get bucket and get off your ass and clean some windows. Cheap easy-to enter profitable entrepreneurship is still alive and well in this country, but if you're too busy being a victim and saying that "china stole our jobs!!!!" then you'll miss it
        • 2 Months Ago
        Mike said:

        "In purely theoretical terms (but also in practice), a deregulated market is not necessarily a free market. In fact, many would not be. This is due to prohibitively high costs of entry mostly."

        WOW! I guess those 30+ automotive startups competing in the x-prize don't really exist. Neither does silicon valley, or any other company that started with venture CAPITAL instead of taxpayer money. I guess the Space X-Prize was just imaginary.

        In fact, almost EVERY advancement of mankind happened IN SPITE of gov't regulation, not because of it! Think of where man would be if gov't ONLY kept monopolies from forming which is to keep commerce REGULAR. Instead gov't creates and defends monopolies (just like itself) by REGULATING smaller competitors out of business by regulating everything from air to zoos. Tell me, what is NOT regulated?

        Then Mike said:

        "But in fact, deregulation of many markets would just == price gauging, risk ignorant oligopolies."

        This is EXACTLY what Free Markets put out of business via competition and bankruptcy HOWEVER crony-corporatism (central planning) CREATES oligopolies by using the power of gov't to produce regulations that only the large companies can afford to comply and by giving taxpayer money to their "friends" who can afford lobbyists. Both of these modes of central planning favor oligopolies with pocket-politicians.

        Politicians are NOT protecting consumers by regulating competition. They are protecting their special interest supporters.

        This is Progressive Cronyism, NOT capitalism.
        • 2 Months Ago
        Tim, you have no evidence and you have no argument. You are ignorant of history, as is your cohort that claims fear of monopoly is irrational. We've had totally unregulated markets before and they suffered violent collapses like this one every 10-15 years. Please refer to the entire19th century as a reference. If you think people were more free and able to enter markets pre-20th century than in the 50's, 60's and 70's before your guys started ripping apart our economy in the 80's then you are just being willfully ignorant.

        And TIm, while I'm at it, please do a little research on CA before you start equating it with socialist China. The tax burden in CA is middle of the pack at most compared to other states in the US. It's problems have to do with wanting a "New York" level of public services for a "Mississippi" price essentially turning the state into a giant debt machine. There's definitely cognitive dissonance at work, but it isn't because they're pinkos. But then again, you probably see commies everywhere, don't you? You are out of your mind, and may god have mercy on your soul, as I am afraid there's nothing we'll be able to about it in this world.

        Finally, a bee is the size of a bee, not a car. Please look up the definition of the word efficiency.
        • 2 Months Ago
        Mike said:

        "The problem with your theory is that you assume all deregulated markets are free. They are not."

        Correct! How can a deregulated market be free when it was STILL regulated? Because Progressives find it easier to blame “free” markets for the failure of central planning while ignoring the FACT that they were STILL being regulated by progressives.

        Anyone who blames "deregulation" for today's financial problems are simply ignorant to the fact that the market has been heavily regulated since W. Wilson put our money Supply and Policy in the hands of private bankers and allowed them to print as much as they like as long as they loan it to politicians who wish to buy votes from special interest groups by spending devalued fiat currency.

        Again, this is Man's Central Economic Engineering trying to surpass the Natural Free Market. Progressive Central Social & Economic Engineering is total FOLLY which has collapsed many nations, caused many mass murders/genocide and has retarded the advancement of mankind. Progressivism is evil incarnate.
        • 2 Months Ago
        "Austrian Free Market (natural) beats Keynesian Central Planning (engineering) EVERY time."

        Except when you look at the real world, in particular the US over the last few years as compared with other more socialized western industrial nations.
        • 2 Months Ago
        The difference being the bee/car thing is putting forth studied numbers and you are putting forth a theory which doesn't exist against what pretty much every nation on the planet uses to some degree or another.

        The problem with your theory is that you assume all deregulated markets are free. They are not. This is the slippery banana peel which underlies this common sophistry.
      • 5 Years Ago
      So we just need to get rid of cars and all have a personal jet pack!

      "and I think it's gonna be a long, long time"
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