Flashback Friday: Bumblebees detect electric fields with their body hair.

By Seriously Science | June 15, 2018 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Bert Heymans

Photo: flickr/Bert Heymans

We’ve already covered some of the amazing things that bees can do, from making perfectly hexagonal honeycombs to doing “the wave” to scare off predators. And it turns out they even have the power to detect electric fields! Although it was known that bees can detect electric fields around flowers, how they achieve this amazing feat was a mystery… until now! According to these scientists, bees are actually covered with small hairs that respond to electricity. Be sure to check out the video below to see the hairs in action!

Mechanosensory hairs in bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) detect weak electric fields

“Electroreception in terrestrial animals is poorly understood. In bumblebees, the mechanical response of filiform hairs in the presence of electric fields provides key evidence for electrosensitivity to ecologically relevant electric fields. Mechanosensory hairs in arthropods have been shown to function as fluid flow or sound particle velocity receivers. The present work provides direct evidence for additional, nonexclusive functionality involving electrical Coulomb-force coupling between distant charged objects and mechanosensory hairs. Thus, the sensory mechanism is proposed to rely on electromechanical coupling, whereby many light thin hairs serve the detection of the electrical field surrounding a bumblebee approaching a flower. This finding prompts the possibility that other terrestrial animals use such sensory hairs to detect and respond to electric fields.”

Bonus video from the main text:

The reaction of a hair to a localized electric field generated by applying an AC voltage (400 V Sin wave, 1 Hz) to a needle 2 mm away from a body hair. Electric fields can produce visible motion in body hairs of a bumblebee. (Right) The reaction of a hair to a localized electric field generated by applying an AC voltage (400 V Square wave, 1 Hz) to a needle 2 mm away from a body hair. Electric fields can produce visible motion in body hairs of a bumblebee.

Related content:
Scientists explain the amazing process by which bees make hexagonal honeycombs.
Dung beetles use the polarization of sunlight to navigate.
How much cocaine can a honey bee take?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals
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