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Electrostatic interactions between flowers and bees

Electrostatic interactions between flowers and bees. Dominic Clarke/Daniel Robert/Heather Whitney
From Left to Right: Daniel Robert, Gregory Sutton, Heather Whitney, and Dominic Clarke.
From left to right: Daniel Robert, Gregory Sutton, Heather Whitney, and Dominic Clarke.

The team

From the University of Bristol:

  • Professor Daniel Robert
  • Dr Heather Whitney
  • Dr Gregory Sutton
  • Mr Dominic Clarke

The science behind the exhibit

Have you ever felt the hairs on your arm stand on end when you brush past an old television screen? Or stuck a balloon to the wall after rubbing it on your jumper? If so you’ve experienced part of the world of static electricity, but you probably haven’t felt the electrical pull of a bee’s wings or the charged electric advertisement of a flower. These tiny electric fields are sensed by bees and used to make important decisions in their lives, like which flowers to visit and which to ignore, and can even help them communicate with each-other inside their hive.

About the exhibit

  • See how electricity helps bees pollinate flowers: Use electrically charged sticks and see who can pick up the most pollen with them
  • See and hear the usually invisible electrical world of real live bees as they forage for food in our special flight arena
  • Learn about the hidden electric fields of flowers and see them brought to life in images and videos and interactive demonstrations

Video

Electrostatic interactions between flowers and bees  

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Images

These images are protected by copyright law and may be used with acknowledgement.

Electrostatic interactions between flowers and bees

Copyright: Dominic Clarke/Julian Harris 2014 Computer simulation of the electric field between a bumblebee and a petunia flower 

A computer simulation of the electric field between a bumblebee and a petunia flower as the bee approaches the flower. When a bee approaches a flower, the electric charge of the bee and the electric charge of the flower interact to create a field between them. Bees can sense this field.

Copyright: Dominic Clarke/Julian Harris 2014

Copyright: Dominic Clarke/Daniel Robert/Heather Whitney 2014 Yellow paint sprayed on a Geranium flower 

Spraying electrically charged paint in the vicinity of flowers reveals the fine structure of their electric fields. The deposition of yellow paint is strongest where the floral electric field is strongest. Here, yellow paint is sprayed on a Geranium flower.

Copyright: Dominic Clarke/Daniel Robert/Heather Whitney 2014

Copyright: Dominic Clarke/Daniel Robert/Heather Whitney 2014 Yellow paint sprayed on a Crocus flower 

Spraying electrically charged paint in the vicinity of flowers reveals the fine structure of their electric fields. The deposition of yellow paint is strongest where the floral electric field is strongest. Here, yellow paint is sprayed on a Crocus flower.

Copyright: Dominic Clarke/Daniel Robert/Heather Whitney 2014

Copyright: Dominic Clarke 2014 Bee drinking sugar water from a feeder 

Bees can be trained to seek food from different kinds of feeders. In this photo, a bee drinks sugar water from a feeder that has had an electric field applied to it.

Copyright: Dominic Clarke 2014

Copyright: Dominic Clarke 2014 Laser vibrometer 

A laser vibrometer can measure how different parts of the bee move in reaction to an electric field.

Copyright: Dominic Clarke 2014