Bees use tiny hairs to sense electric fields

I will have a “links to share” post soon (they’re building up in my drafts box), but I had to have a post just for this NPR article on how bees detect electric fields. I wrote about the importance of electricity in plant-pollinator interactions last year; this is a follow up study elucidating the mechanism behind the interaction that allows bees to sense and utilize electric fields.

The functional relevance (i.e. how much bees use electric fields relative to other methods to forage) is unknown, but it seems like it could be an important component of determining floral quality, as a flower that has been visited may have a different electric signature than an unvisited flower.

The other cool thing about this that stands out to me is that we have always assumed that the branched body hairs which are diagnostic of bees were an adaptation for collecting pollen, but they could have a dual purpose in detecting electrical fields!

Here’s the NPR article: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/05/30/479804121/bumblebees-little-hairs-can-sense-flowers-electric-fields  (don’t read the comments haha)

It looks like the original study has not been released at PNAS yet, but I will link to it once it is.  (I can’t even tell you who the lead author is yet, without a preview of the scientific article)

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