Scientists from Bristol University started a study on flowers and ended up with a new theory on electric bees that can identify their favorite flowers. It seems that the flying insects can sense the electric fields of flowers with their tiny hairs.
Gregory Sutton, the leading author of the study, wanted to know why there are so many differences between flowers. This simple question led him to years of research, which concluded with focusing on the interaction between bees and flowers and the act of pollination.
The explanation is that flowers develop such a large variety of shapes and sizes because they need bees to create a monogamous relationship with them. The form of the flower forces the bee to spend a lot of time learning how to obtain the nectar.
After such an investment, bees will want to preserve the skill and use it further, which means they will look up more and more flowers of the same type.
Sutton was then interested in how exactly a bee knew what kind of flower they were landing on.
The answer is the main subject of his recently published article. It seems that bees are covered with fine light fiber-like hairs that can sense the natural electric fields of flowers.
Flowers generate a vague electric field caused by their interactions with the earth and the air.
In order to verify this theory, scientists created an artificial flower with the same electrical characteristics of an ordinary plant. Bees identified the object as being a flower and containing nectar.
A lot of marine creatures have the same ability, but up until now it was thought it only functions in water.
As for the electric bees, it seems that they do not use their antennae to identify flowers, as initially believed. It was, in fact, the little bee hairs that sensed the electric field created by flowers.
Scientists used laser beams and electrodes and discovered that the bee hairs reacted to the electric fields of flowers and then sent signals to the nervous system. The nervous system initiates the proper behavior, either for landing on a known flower or avoiding a flower that is already occupied by another bee.
“I’m very excited by this because these little mechanically sensitive hairs are common all over the insect world. I think this might be something we see in more insects than just bumblebees,” said Mr. Sutton.
This new finding is just another amazing fact surrounding the world of bees. However, scientists need to research the purpose of this mechanism further, as flowers have so many different characteristics. It may be that the electric system is used only for navigation.
However, the study brings into light a fascinating theory on how bees and flowers interact. Researchers will look into the possibility of other insects having the same identification and navigation system.
Image Source: Pexels