A new paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that the tiny, mechanosensory hairs of bumblebees can pick up the weak electric fields of flowers around them as the currents travel through the air. The authors propose that this directly influences the bees’ foraging decisions, helping them find their way to food when choosing between different flowers, which they are using the fields to identify. Honeybees were already known to orient to the Earth’s magnetic field, so bumblebees are now joining them in having extraordinary extrasensory perceptions.
Bees, of which there are more than 20,000 varieties, are an incredible insect, but one that may not be with us forever. Farmed honeybees face colony collapse disorder. Bumblebees, which play an important role in healthy agriculture, face threats, as do urban bees, which have a similar, key ecological role in the pollination of some plants species. While it isn’t true that bees are responsible for pollinating one third of the world’s crops, an oft-cited but incorrect statistic, bees do play an important role in maintaining the health of up to 35% of American crop yields. Losing them would be far from ideal.
But we should appreciate bees not just for their delicious honey and crop-pollinating powers, but for all the other strange, fascinating facets of their behavior. Take, for example, their undying loyalty, on display recently when 20,000 bees followed a car in Britain for more than 24 hours because their queen was trapped in its trunk. The queen was eventually freed thanks to the combined efforts of five different beekeepers, after becoming trapped two times during the rescue efforts.
And one must appreciate their adaptability. Loner, urban bees who like to live on their own are found in cities. Cities, as we all know, can be challenging places to find homes. There's no Bees.craigslist.org. Instead, bee lovers have taken to making "bee hotels" for them to live in, helping them navigate degraded environments. You could also purchase an already finished bee hotel (a “mansion”, no less) if you don’t trust yourself with a power drill. If you do DIY a bee hotel, be sure to follow the most important part of the instructions: remove all splinters near the entrance. Bees are rather precious about their wings.
Bees are delicate, electricity-sensing little weirdos (even tough, city bees) that we can’t do without. Invite one into your backyard today! They might even know it was you who provided their accommodations–some bees, cleverly, can recognize individual human faces.
Elmo is a writer with Real Future.