Saturday, 1 April 2017

Bumblebees and Flowers : A Sparking Electric Love

Are you one among the many “newly born” photographers who would like to take pictures of bees buzzing around the flowers? If so, have you ever noticed them dancing in the form of figure 8? This dance is usually referred as Waggle dance and is performed by the worker bees to communicate all necessary information about their food resource to other bees. Having said that, aren’t you eager to know the reason behind it? Despite the differences in shape, size and colour of the flower, they are quite successful in finding it. So how do they do it?

To put an end to all such questions, researchers of the University of Bristol studied on bumblebees and have concluded neither the sight nor the smell of the flower helps them to locate it. They have special biological ability to sense electric field, called electroreception. Animal such as sharks, dolphin, and electric eel which either live in poor lighting or have a poor vision use this ability to locate their prey.

Bees are covered with tiny hairs around their body. When they move around, due to atmospheric friction, they become relatively more positively charged when compared to a stationary grounded flower (negatively charged). This difference in the electrostatic charges causes bending of their tiny hairs, which are then sensed by the mechano-sensory neurons that are present at the base of the hair sockets.  This effect is very similar to the static charge created in a balloon, which when rubbed against silk and brought near our skin, causes our hair to stand up. The same process is used to identify the presence of a flower. Once the honeybee has sat on a flower and collected the nectar from it, it becomes positively charged. This helps the honey bees in avoiding the flowers that they have already visited.

While neurobiologists throughout the world are working on understanding the visual perception and sensory system of insects, this finding throws light on their navigation system. Electroreception might become the new future for better navigation system, which could be even implemented in automobiles for a collision-free ride.

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