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Electric Flowers

March 25, 2013

Low-voltage electricity may help guide bees to the right flowers.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Electric flowers.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Bright, colorful flowers attract bees, which pollinate them in exchange for nectar. But if a bee lands on a flower that has been temporarily depleted of its nectar by another bee, it may fly away in frustration. Now, scientists have discovered that small electric fields around flowers may help guide bees to the ones that actually contain nectar at any given time. University of Bristol sensory biologist Daniel Robert explains.

DANIEL ROBERT (University of Bristol):

Bees will be more interested in the presence of an electric field rather than the absence of one.

HIRSHON:

But once the bee lands, its own electric field resets that of the flower. This tells other bees to wait until the flower builds up both voltage and nectar before visiting it again.

ROBERT:

And that actually is also good for the flowers because more bees will come later and take more pollen away.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Click to watch video of a bumblebee visiting a petunia flower.

A bumblebee pollinating a flower. (P7r7/Wikipedia)