Bees use electricity to charm plants into releasing scents

Bees really get a buzz out of flowers: Insects use electricity to charm plants into releasing scents, scientists discover

  • Bees can create an electrical charge to charm flowers into releasing their scent
  • Scientists from the University of Bristol, Rothamsted Research, and Cardiff University discovered the insects use an electrical charge to release the scent
  • The scientists were able to measure the charge carried by each bee in the study
  • Lead author Dr Clara Montgomery said the trait possibly evolved in plants to maximise the effectiveness of the attractive chemicals they release

It’s a scientific story with a sting in the tale. 

Bees can create an electrical charge to charm flowers into releasing their scent.

Experts are buzzing after proving for the first time that some blooms use the presence of pollinators as a cue to give up more of their perfume.

This in turn boosts the plant’s chances of being visited again.

The tiny electrical charge carried by bees was thought to help pollen stick to them during flight, but a study found that it can also announce their presence to the flowers they visit.

Bees can create an electrical charge to charm flowers into releasing their scent. Experts are buzzing after proving for the first time that some blooms use the presence of pollinators as a cue to give up more of their perfume.

Lead author Dr Clara Montgomery said the trait possibly evolved in plants to maximise the effectiveness of the attractive chemicals they release.

‘Flowers have a limited supply of these scents, so it makes sense they only release them when their pollinators are around,’ she said. 

‘Essentially, it is only worth advertising when you know you have an audience. 

‘Other cues they might use, such as daylight or temperature, can be unreliable, as it might also be windy or raining, which would reduce pollinator presence.

‘These scents are also used by insects that want to eat or lay eggs on the plant, so increasing their chances of only attracting pollinators is vital.’

The research was carried out by scientists from the University of Bristol, Rothamsted Research, and Cardiff University.

Although the electrical charge on a bumblebee – somewhere in the region of 120 picoCoulombs (pC) – is incredibly small, the team found that a charge of 600 pC – or about the same as five bee visits – was enough to induce a species of violet petunia, petunia integrifolia, to markedly release more scent.

The scientists were able to measure the charge carried by each bee, as well as the amount of the main attractive chemical, benzaldehyde, released by flowers in response to their visits.

The team’s findings were published in the journal The Science of Nature.

The scientists were able to measure the charge carried by each bee, as well as the amount of the main attractive chemical, benzaldehyde, released by flowers in response to their visits

Chelsea Flower Show is banning fake grass from next year

Artificial grass, made from plastic, is extremely difficult to recycle and is a hostile environment for wildlife.

It is already banned in exhibits but will also now be banned from trade stands.

Yesterday, the award for Best Show Garden went to a Chinese exhibit showing how cities can work with nature. 

The Guangzhou Garden featured a woodland dell and bamboo shelters.

Yesterday, the award for Best Show Garden went to a Chinese exhibit showing how cities can work with nature

The Guangzhou Garden featured a woodland dell and bamboo shelters

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