Researchers Find Bumblebees Have An Electric Field Sensor To Help Find Flowers

Researchers of the University of Bristol have found an electric field sensor on bumblebees. This latest study revealed that bumblebees use the hair that covers their body to detect electrical fields that are produced by flowers.

As reported by The Guardian, the study was initially published by the University of Bristol in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The results of the study help find a solution to the mystery about how an insect senses and interprets electric fields.

It has been known for some time that plants emit a small electric field. It is also been shown that bumblebees' use smell and visual cues such as shape, color and patterns to help find nectar.

In 2013, biologist Daniel Robert and colleagues, also at the University of Bristol, were surprised to find that bumblebees can detect the electric fields of flowers. Now, it has been discovered that the hairs on their body is what helps them do it.

This current research, led by Research Fellow Dr. Gregory Sutton, used dead bees and mounted them on pins and then used a laser for measuring the vibrations created when the bees were subjected to a mild electrical field. They found out that the hair and antenna of the bumblebees are deflected in response to the electric field. They also found that the hair acted as an electric field sensor. They moved faster and deflected wider when compared to the antenna in response to the electrical fields.

The research indicates that when a bumblebee gets close to a flower, the flower's electric field disrupts that of the bumblebee, giving the bee information about what type of plant it is. The bee's other senses help with further identification.

Dr. Sutton speculates that electroreception in insects is probably widespread since many insects have hair similar to that of the bumblebee. There are many insects with hairs and chances of those insects having a similar electrical field sensor are high.

Scientists are interested in knowing how insects receive floral signals and how they are perceived. They were keen to know how bees, which are key pollinators for the crops, perceive and receive electric signals. This latest research by the members of the University of Bristol, about the electric field sensor of the bumblebee, has helped in understanding the close relationship of flowers and pollinators. 

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