A bee gets to work
A similar electroreception sense may be found in other insects, many of which have similar body hairs, the University of Bristol researchers believe. Bumblebees use tiny vibrating hairs to sense electric fields transmitted by flowers, a study has shown.
Three years ago a team from the same university showed that bumblebees can sense and interpret electrical flower signals. But how they do it remained a mystery.
Now a new study has shown that the bees’ hairs move rapidly in response to electric fields, sending messages to the nervous system.
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Lead researcher Dr Gregory Sutton, from the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “We were excited to discover that bees’ tiny hairs dance in response to electric fields, like when humans hold a balloon to their hair.
“A lot of insects have similar body hairs, which leads to the possibility that many members of the insect world may be equally sensitive to small electric fields.”
Flowering plants employ a variety of strategies to attract pollinators, including bright colours, patterns and fragrances.
In 2013, researchers from the University of Bristol led by Professor Daniel Robert demonstrated that they also use electricity.
Bees build up a positive electric charge as they fly, while flowers are negatively charged. The difference produces a spark, an electrostatic field, that the bees can sense.
For the latest study the scientists used a laser to measure the tiny hair vibrations.
Their findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.