A bumblebee visits a flower, drawn in by the bright colours, the patterns on the petals, and the aromatic promise of sweet nectar. But there's more to pollination than sight and smell. There is also electricity in the air.
Dominic Clarke and Heather Whitney from the University of Bristol have shown that bumblebees can sense the electric field that surrounds a flower. They can even learn to distinguish between fields produced by different floral shapes, or use them to work out whether a flower has been recently visited by other bees. Flowers aren't just visual spectacles and smelly beacons. They're also electric billboards.
"This is a big finding," says Daniel Robert, who led the study. "Nobody had postulated the idea that bees could be sensitive to the electric field of a flower."
Humans and honeybees live at different speeds. Not only is a bee's life usually briefer and busier, but she also experiences it in slow motion, letting her live every second a little longer than we do.
Our brains can't keep up with a honeybee's wings, for example, so her 200 flaps per second become a blur and "bzzz." But our brains have other talents, like inventing high-speed video cameras or ignoring the pain of beestings to record with such cameras inches away from an active honeybee hive.
The latter feat was recently accomplished by photographer Michael N. Sutton, who endured three stings while filming super high-speed video of honeybees at an apiary near his home in New Hampshire. The result, titled "Apis Mellifera: Honey Bee," reveals the insects at thousands of frames per second, capturing individual wing flaps and even the way a bee's feet gently sway as she flies.