New research shows that swarms of bees can generate as much electrical charge as a storm.
In a study published Monday in the journal iScience, researchers from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom discovered this phenomenon by chance.
Biologist Ellard Hunting, first author of the study, told CNN that the Bristol team was studying how different organisms use static electric fields in their environment.
Atmospheric electricity has many functions, mainly to shape weather events and to help organisms, for example, find food.
“For example, flowers have an electric field and bees can sense these fields. And those electrical fields in flowers can change when a bee has visited, and other bees can use that information to see if a flower has been visited,” Hunting explained.
Setting up equipment to measure atmospheric electric fields at the university, which houses several honey beehives, Hunting and his team noticed that there was a “significant effect on the atmospheric electric fields” whenever the bees walked, regardless of the weather. change t
All insects generate a charge during flight due to air friction, load size varying between species. Individual bees carry a load small enough for researchers to notice, so “this effect (among bees) was unexpected,” Hunting said.
The researchers observed the hives at the field station, using a recording camera and electric field monitors to measure currents during the bee swarm. They can form when the hive is overcrowded, with the queen bee leaving with about 12,000 worker bees, the researchers wrote in the study.
The monitors measured currents for approximately three minutes at a time as the water passed over them, detecting charges ranging from 100 to 1,000 volts per meter. Hunting and his colleagues noticed that the electric field was greater when the hive was thicker, when it was full of bees. They found that, depending on the density, the atmospheric charge can be similar to a storm cloud., electrified thunderstorm or dust storm.
Using the model developed with bees, the team predicted the effect of other insect species that roam on a “biblical scale”, such as leafhoppers, and theorized that they have the potential to alter their local electrical environment “on a similar magnitude”. meteorological events,” says the study.
Hunting said he believes the team’s findings open up new avenues of research, particularly in the relationship between the natural world and atmospheric electricity.