Detection and learning of floral electric fields by bumblebees

Science. 2013 Apr 5;340(6128):66-9. doi: 10.1126/science.1230883. Epub 2013 Feb 21.


Insects use several senses to forage, detecting floral cues such as color, shape, pattern, and volatiles. We report a formerly unappreciated sensory modality in bumblebees (Bombus terrestris), detection of floral electric fields. These fields act as floral cues, which are affected by the visit of naturally charged bees. Like visual cues, floral electric fields exhibit variations in pattern and structure, which can be discriminated by bumblebees. We also show that such electric field information contributes to the complex array of floral cues that together improve a pollinator's memory of floral rewards. Because floral electric fields can change within seconds, this sensory modality may facilitate rapid and dynamic communication between flowers and their pollinators.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Cues*
  • Electromagnetic Fields*
  • Flowers / anatomy & histology
  • Flowers / physiology*
  • Pollination*