Prospect of fertilisation really blows bees' hair back

Yes, literally


There's one thing that literally makes bees' hairs stand up and quiver, say boffins: small electric fields emitted by flowers looking to get it on.

According to research from Bristol University, flowers encourage pollination by transmitting electric signals that cause bees' hair to rapidly vibrate.

The findings, published in the international journal Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) today, suggest that electroreception in insects may be widespread.

Electroreception may arise from the bees' hairs being lightweight and stiff, properties that confer a rigid, lever-like motion similar to acoustically sensitive spider hairs and mosquito antennae, said the researcher.

Gregory Sutton, research fellow at 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."

Scientists are particularly interested in understanding how floral signals are perceived, received and acted upon by bees as critical pollinators of crops, noted the research.

Electroreception is common in aquatic mammals. For example, sharks are equipped with sensitive, jelly-filled receptors that detect fluctuations in electric fields in seawater, which helps them to home in on their prey.

It seems flowers are more sophisticated than appearing as "simply tarts for the bees". ®

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