Feeds

Bees use 'electrical SIXTH SENSE' to nail nectar-stuffed flowers

Sparks fly when bumbles see plants for plundering, say Brit bio-boffins

A new approach to endpoint data protection

There's electricity in the air when bees meet flowers: according to a new study, the blooms and approaching insects uses electrical signals to find out whether there is nectar and pollen to spare.

A bee covered with pollen on a flower

My spidey bumble senses are tingling

As they fly through the air, bumblebees acquire a positive electric charge, while flowers, which are grounded, have a negative charge. When the two meet, the bee somehow senses the difference, and it's that information - along with bright colours, patterns and enticing fragrance - that attracts pollinators to blooms.

Bio-boffins at the University of Bristol, which conducted the study, found that when a bee visits a flower and picks up its pollen, some of the positive charge on the insect may transfer to the plant and alter its electric charge. After several visits, this change in charge appears to be detected by other incoming bees who swerve away in search of a plant that hasn't been plundered.

But both the bee and the plant have a bit of control over their charge, we're told, and some plants may lie about their nectar supply.

“The last thing a flower wants is to attract a bee and then fail to provide nectar: a lesson in honest advertising since bees are good learners and would soon lose interest in such an unrewarding flower," lead author Daniel Robert said.

"The co-evolution between flowers and bees has a long and beneficial history, so perhaps it's not entirely surprising that we are still discovering today how remarkably sophisticated their communication is."

The researchers tested the electric chat by placing electrodes in the stems of petunias and observing that, when a bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) lands, the flower's potential changes and stays that way for a few minutes. They also found that the bees are able to detect and distinguish between different flowers' electric fields.

What they don't yet know is how the bees detect the fields with this sixth sense, although it's possible that bumblebee hairs bristle up under the electrostatic force.

The full study, Detection and Learning of Floral Electric Fields by Bumblebees, was published in Science Express. ®

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Brit amateur payload set to complete full circle around PLANET EARTH
Ultralight solar radio tracker in glorious 25,000km almost-space odyssey
Boffins spot weirder quantum capers as neutrons take the high road, spin takes the low
Cheshire cat effect see neutrons and their properties walk different paths
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?