Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bees and flowers and electrical fields

I don't know about you but I have always wondered how some insects like butterflies and bees are able to find the plants and flowers they seek. We often hold views and beliefs that pertain much more to humanity than other species. Sometimes we instinctively think that cats and dogs can see what we do, the same types of colors and intensities, when their vision is far different in a multitude of ways. Many people believe the myth that if you touch a baby bird the mother or father will smell you on it and reject the nestling because we all seem to think that even though we have a relatively poor sense of smell that all other creatures have a powerful one. That would never be a problem with an American Robin in your backyard - in reality the greater problem would be you leading mammalian predators, that do use their powerful sense of smell, to the nest.

But back to the bugs and specifically the bees, how do they possibly move around enough and have sufficient time to find all of the specific flowers they want to pollinate? It boggles my mind, but thankfully researchers at Bristol University's school of Biological Sciences have found some answers. Professor Daniel Robert and his team found, "patterns of electrical signals that can communicate information to the insect pollinator" and that "[t]hese electrical signals can work in concert with the flower’s other attractive signals and enhance floral advertising power." The press release continues saying:

"Plants are usually charged negatively and emit weak electric fields. On their side, bees acquire a positive charge as they fly through the air. No spark is produced as a charged bee approaches a charged flower, but a small electric force builds up that can potentially convey information. By placing electrodes in the stems of petunias, the researchers showed that when a bee lands, the flower’s potential changes and remains so for several minutes. Could this be a way by which flowers tell bees another bee has recently been visiting? 
To their surprise, the researchers discovered that bumblebees can detect and distinguish between different floral electric fields. Also, the researchers found that when bees were given a learning test, they were faster at learning the difference between two colours when electric signals were also available. How then do bees detect electric fields? This is not yet known, although the researchers speculate that hairy bumblebees bristle up under the electrostatic force, just like one’s hair in front of an old television screen."

There is so much going on around us that we have absolutely no awareness of because all life on Earth has a literally different perception of the planet than we do. We simply do not discern the same things. Birds are known to use magnetic fields and variations within it in order to navigate their way through the darkness during migration as they make their own map in their brains. This is just another level we have no sensation of and are not evolved to be tuned into. It makes you wonder how many more parts of our universe we are not seeing or how many dimensions there are to the cosmos beyond our planet. The more we discover about our natural world the more I believe what we feel is supernatural or science fiction is a lot closer to reality than we think.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

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