Bumblebees may be able to recognize electric signals emitted by flowers by the use of tiny lightweight hairs connected to their nervous system. These new findings were published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, by researchers at the University of Bristol.
For years, scientists have known that flowers communicate with pollinators. A team lead by Dr. Gregory Sutton, a research Fellow in the Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, wanted to understand how bees were able to detect those electric messages.
Dr. Sutton said that researchers previously thought that the electric signals sent by flowers would cause the antenna to move.
“We were thinking the static force could move an antenna,” he told Mashable.
Researchers proceeded to analyze vibrations with laser technology. They discovered that bumblebees use their hair and antenna to detect electric fields. However, the hairs move more abruptly than the antenna.
The team then studied the bee’s nervous system and determined that only the tiny hairs are able to translate electrical signals into commands for the nervous system. A theory suggests that electro-perception in insects may be more common than expected.
Other insects may also be equipped with hairs sensible to electric fields
The study proposes that electro-perception in bumblebees may come from lightweight hairs with a rigid structure. Bee’s hair may be the equivalent of acoustically sensitive spider hairs and mosquito antennae, said researchers in a press release issued Tuesday, by Bristol University.
“We were excited to discover that bees’ tiny hairs dance in response to electric fields, like when humans hold a balloon to their hair. A lot of insects have similar body hairs, which leads to the possibility that many members the insect world may be equally sensitive to small electric fields,” added Sutton.
Researchers want to conduct further investigations about the bee’s relationship with flowers, and how they perceive, receive and translate information. These flying insects are fundamental pollinators of crops.
Electro-perception is common in the animal kingdom, particularly among aquatic mammals. For instance, sharks develop “sensitive, jelly-filled receptors” capable of detecting electric fields in water. The sea fish can use this system to attack their prey, according to researchers.
“This is not the first time one of the everyday insects we encounter on a daily basis has been shown to do something wild and crazy, and this will by no means be the last. This shows us that we really don’t know much about the insects we deal with on a daily basis,” Sutton told Mashable.
Unlike other insects, bumblebees can flight ‘higher than the Everest’
Previous investigations have determined that bumblebees are capable of flying at high altitudes, that cannot be reached by other similar flying insects. According to Researchers at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, they can even support “air pressure equivalents of up to 24,275 feet above sea level.”
Researchers captured bees at high altitudes in mountains of China’s Sichuan Province, said National Geographic. The flying insects were undergone to air pressure tests. They were able to adapt their flying patterns, as conditions were changing.