Bees use electrical fields as a 'sixth sense' to zero in on nectar-rich flowers, a British study has discovered.
Flowers exploit the previously unknown “sensory modality”, using electrical fields as a signpost to increase the chances of pollination. Flowers may also use temporary drops in their electric fields as ‘no vacancy’ signs, discouraging immediate visits after their nectar has been tapped.
Bristol University biologists tested bees’ ability to detect electrical fields by loading artificial flowers with nectar and 30-volt charges, approximating flowers’ natural electrical fields. Uncharged ‘e-flowers’, indistinguishable in every other respect, were loaded with bitter quinine solution.
Free-flying bumblebees quickly learned to pick the “rewarding” flowers, choosing them more than 80 per cent of the time. After the charge was removed, the success rate fell to about 50 per cent.