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Flowers go electric to attract bees

Feb. 22, 2013 at 4:58 PM   |   Comments

BRISTOL, England, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Flowers use more than just color and shape to attract pollinating bees, British researchers say -- in fact, they can go completely electric.

Researchers from the University of Bristol say their studies show for the first time that pollinators such as bumblebees are able to find and distinguish electric signals given out by flowers.

Flowers have the equivalent of a neon sign, researcher Daniel Robert said -- patterns of electrical signals that can communicate information to the insect pollinator.

These electrical signals can work in concert with the flower's other attractive signals like color and shape and enhance floral advertising power, the researchers said.

Plants are usually charged negatively and emit weak electric fields, while bees acquire a positive charge as they fly through the air. When a charged bee approaches a charged flower a small electric force builds up that can potentially convey information, a Bristol release said Friday.

How the bees detect the electric fields is not yet known, the researchers said, although it may be that hairy bumblebees bristle up under the electrostatic force, just like one's hair in front of an old television screen.

"The co-evolution between flowers and bees has a long and beneficial history," Robert said, "so perhaps it's not entirely surprising that we are still discovering today how remarkably sophisticated their communication is."

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