Bumblebees' Tiny Hairs Can Sense Flowers' Electric Fields

Posted: May 31 2016, 12:48am CDT | by , Updated: May 31 2016, 8:28pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Bumblebees' Tiny Hairs Can Sense Flowers' Electric Fields
Credit: University of Bristol

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Researchers have found that bumblebees use their 'dancing' hairs to sense electric signals emitted by flowers.

Bumblebees use their tiny, vibrating hairs to sense electric signals sent by flowers and react to it, new research suggests.

It’s widely known that flowers release electric signals in the air to attract their pollinators, but very little was known about the pollinator’s response and how they interpret those signals.

Now, researchers from Bristol University have found that bumblebees use both their antenna and hairs for detecting those floral electrical fields. Bumblebees have tiny, sensitive hairs all over their fuzzy bodies and with their help they find and distinguish their targeted flowers.

Flowers generate weak electric fields which are picked up by bumblebee’s hairs. The ‘dancing’ hairs alert bees’ nervous system to the signals and this exchange of information helps bees performing their nectar-gathering duties.

“We were excited to discover that bees’ tiny hairs dance in response to electric fields, like when humans hold a balloon to their hair,” said lead researcher Dr Gregory Sutton. “A lot of insects have similar body hairs, which leads to the possibility that many members the insect world may be equally sensitive to small electric fields.”

Researchers used a laser beam to measure the small movements of bumblebee’s antenna or hair. Then, they recorded the activity of nerve cells in relation to those magnetic fields by attaching a very fine electrode wire into nervous system.

The results suggest that bumblebees can sense electric fields emitted by flower from a distance of nearly 22 inches but that’s under control conditions inside the lab. It is more probably 4 inches in the real world.

Bees are crucial pollinators and understanding their sensing ability has revealed the co-evolution of their flowers and their pollinators on which our crops and plants depend heavily.

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