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article imageBumblebees sense flowers' electric signals

By Eileen Kersey     Feb 22, 2013 in Science
Bristol - Bees are amazing little creatures that busily help keep our world alive. If bees vanished the Earth would be in deep trouble.
Scientists study much of our world. Research into living creatures can help us understand the planet better and help us learn how to protect it. The next time you swat a bee consider how important this tiny creature is to mankind and the environment. As bees busily buzz from one plant to another they pollinate at a rate which would be difficult for humans to achieve.
The latest scientific research into Bumblebees, officially named "bombus terrestris", has shown that they can detect flowers' electric fields, reports the BBC.
The study found that flowers have electric fields which the bees use to discriminate between flowers. Clever little Bees.
Flowers use various "cues" to attract bees. This has been known for sometime. Just as an advertising guru will try to entice you to buy, by using sophisticated methods to suck you in, flowers tempt the bees to pay a visit. The colour and scent of flowers are prime examples. The latest study of electric fields adds one more cue.
The study was undertaken by researchers at Bristol University in the UK. According to Prof Daniel Robert who led the study,
"This doesn't throw away any of the previous work on cues that flowers are using, it adds another layer on top of that. What the pollen needs to 'know' is when to 'jump' onto the 'vehicle' - the bee - and when to get off it. So it's a selective adhesion type of question.
We looked at [existing] literature and realised that the bees were being positively charged when they fly around, and that flowers have a negative potential. There's always this electrical bias around. As a sensory biologist, suddenly I thought: can the bees sense that?"
Apparently the answer is, Yes they can.
The study involved the use of "fake" electric flowers which the bees soon realised were not the "Real McCoy".
Discovering that bees use these electric fields is just the start of the research. The scientists know that there is still a lot to learn and understand about bees. The population of bees in declining but with an increase in our knowledge of bees perhaps that can be halted.
Full details of the research and its findings can be found at the online publication the Science Express, in this week's issue.
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