Bees get a buzz out of electric flowers

An artist's drawing shows the New Horizons spacecraft as it nears Pluto. The moon Charon is in the distance. Photograph: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

An artist's drawing shows the New Horizons spacecraft as it nears Pluto. The moon Charon is in the distance. Photograph: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory


We enjoy flowers for their colours and fragrances. But it appears bumblebees also get a buzz out of their electric fields.

It seems flowers tend to have a negative charge, while visiting bees tend to be positively charged. And, according to a new study from the University of Bristol, bumblebees seem to be able to sense and alter the electrical field around flowers.

The researchers measured what happened when bees visited petunias, and they found that when a (positively-charged) bee landed on a flower, the flower’s electric field changed and remained changed for several minutes. “Could this be a way by which flowers tell bees another bee has recently been visiting?” asks a statement about the research.

Meanwhile, in another experiment, the researchers rigged some artificial electric flowers and found that, under that set-up at least, bumblebees seemed to be able to detect and distinguish between different floral electric fields.

Researcher Prof Daniel Robert says: “The co-evolution between flowers and bees has a long and beneficial history, so perhaps it’s not entirely surprising that we are still discovering today how remarkably sophisticated their communication is.”

Name that moon: Pluto’s satellite to get new titles

Poor Pluto. You can’t help but feel a little bit sorry for it since its demotion from fully fledged planet to dwarf planet.

But plucky little Pluto can still capture the public imagination. Hundreds of thousands of votes have been cast in a poll to name two recently discovered moons, P4 and P5, that orbit the celestial body.

P4 has an estimated diameter of eight to 21 miles. It was spotted in 2011 in images taken by the Hubble telescope. Then last year, astronomers reported finding P5 in Hubble data – the irregular-shaped moon is six to 15 miles across.

The names P4 and P5 are functional, but they hardly fire up the imagination, particularly when Pluto’s other three moons are called Charon, Nix and Hydra.

This month the Seti Institute invited members of the public to help choose new handles for P4 and P5 from a list of names associated with Greek and Roman mythology. Votes could be cast online or through a write-in ballot, and a team of astronomers will make the selection taking the results into account. The poll is closed, but Vulcan and Cerberus were popular choices.

“We have been overwhelmed by the world’s response. Thank you to all 450,324 who voted,” writes astronomer Mark Showalter on the site “Please be patient now. It could take one to two months for the final names of P4 and P5 to be selected and approved. Stay tuned.”

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