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Bees and Flowers Communicate Using Electrical Fields

Posted on February 22 2013 by secret santa

"Plants are usually charged negatively and emit weak electric fields. On their side, bees acquire a positive charge, up to 200 Volts, as they fly through the air. No spark is produced as a charged bee approaches a charged flower, but certainly a small electric force builds up that can potentially convey information. Placing electrodes in the stems of Petunias, the researchers showed that when a bee lands, the flower's potential changes and remains so for several minutes.

Could this be a way by which flowers tell bees another bee has recently been visiting? To their surprise, the researchers discovered that bumblebees can detect and distinguish between different floral electric fields. Also, when bees are given a learning test, they are faster at learning the difference between two colours when electric signals are also available. How then do bees detect electric fields? This is not yet known, although the researchers speculate that hairy bumblebees bristle up under the electrostatic force, just like one's hair in front of an old television screen.

The discovery of such electric detection has opened up a whole new understanding of insect perception and flower communication. Dr. Heather Whitney, a co-author of the study commented: "This novel communication channel reveals how flowers can potentially inform their pollinators about the honest status of their precious nectar and pollen reserves". Professor Robert said: "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 unrewarding flower".

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