Swarms of bees generate more volts per meter than thunderclouds
British researchers have discovered a previously unknown natural phenomenon: in a swarm, honey bees can generate an electrical charge of up to 1,000 volts per meter. This field strength even exceeds that of thunderclouds and electrically charged dust storms. The findings could help to better understand the communication and behavior of bees .
Bristol (UK). According to a report in Cell’s scientific journal iScience , Ellard Hunting and his team from the University of Bristol were actually taking meteorological measurements at a field edge. But one day, electric field readings suddenly showed a massive increase in atmospheric electric charge, even though no storm was in sight. The discovery was accidental, but it could provide important insights into the electrical activity of bees and other insects.
While trying to explain the unusual phenomenon, the researchers found that the increase in readings coincided with the swarming season of neighboring strains of western honey bees (Apis mellifera). This suggests that the electrical charge may be related to bee behavior and could contribute to research into bee communication.
Targeted measurements confirmed such electrical voltages
To check their assumption, the researchers working with Ellard Hunting installed further measuring stations in the immediate vicinity of bee colonies, equipped with additional cameras. They were able to replicate the measurements of swarming bees flying past, which generated electric field strengths of 100 to 1,000 volts per meter. In one case, the bees swarmed around three measuring stations for around three minutes, creating impressive effects. The discovery is remarkable because such tension in swarming bees had never been documented before.
The density of the bee swarm affects the strength of the electric field
An analysis of the distances between the bees within the swarms in combination with the measured values revealed that the strength of the electric field depends on the density of the swarm. The electric fields were stronger in denser swarms and weaker in less dense swarms. This observation suggests that bees’ electrical charges may help promote swarm cohesion.
The data showed that some swarms of bees generated voltages six to eight times greater than those from meteorological events such as field strength within thunderclouds or charged dust storms . This discovery is remarkable because it is a completely unknown phenomenon. The results of the study could help to better understand the behavior of bee swarms and their communication.
Although some research suggests that the electrical charge of bees arises randomly from the friction between bee wings and air, it is unclear whether it also has a concrete use for the bees, for example when searching for food. In addition, it is still unclear whether swarms of other animal species or even accumulations of microbes can generate similar electric fields. Further research is required to answer these questions.