We all know that bees are some of the most crucial pollinators and major players in the sustainability of our crops and in the functioning of natural ecosystems.
Consequently, the relationship between these tiny insects and the flowers they pollinate is of vital interest. So how exactly do bees and blooms communicate with one another?
According to researchers from Bristol University, England, employing electric fields seems to be one of the many methods that bumblebees use to recognize particular flowers – a technique that’s usually believed to be particular only to the aquatic world.
Their research, featured in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), analyzed the mechanisms involved and discovered that there’s a reason for the fuzzy hairs that cover the bumblebees’ bodies.
It turns out that the unique electrical signatures that a given flower emits are detected by the bee’s hundreds of hairs, establishing communication.
“When I first started studying this I had a very naïve question,” said senior author Gregory Sutton, a Royal Society university research fellow at Bristol University. “Why do flowers look so different to one another?”
And this is where things get interesting: Why didn’t all flowers converge to the one scent, shape, color that was proved to be the most attractive to the pollinators? As a matter of fact, there’s a very good reason why, because this reasoning overlooks an important factor.
The flowers’ goal is not only to attract a given pollinator; they need that pollinator to keep coming back, locking them into a sort-of monogamous relationship. So, a bee will need some time to figure out how to extract the nectar from a given type of flower on display in the plant kingdom.
But once it conquers one, a bee is more reluctant to spend the time and energy to investigate others. Thus, each flower tries to communicate its identity in as many ways as possible. Color, shape, and scent are all useful, but they also use subtler methods, such as patterns visible only in ultraviolet light, or their electric fields.
Electro-receptivity is not connected only to the bees’ antennae, but also to their big fuzzy hairs. “This mechanism of using tilting body hair to measure electric fields could be a ubiquitous thing in the insect world,” researchers concluded.
Image Source: Pinimg