Honeybees can produce up to 1000 Volt Electricity

Swarms of honeybees can produce up to 1000 Volt electricity! This is as much electrical charge as a thunderstorm! The study, published in the journal iScience, explains how researchers at Bristol University in the UK stumbled across this amazing discovery by chance. Sadly, the discovery will not help with cheaper energy for electric cars, but it opens a new pathway to get a better insight into the capabilities of honeybees and may explain certain behaviors.

Biologist Ellard Hunting, leading author of the study explained her team was researching “how various creatures utilize the static electric fields that are omnipresent in the environment.” 

Static Electric Fields

Charges that are fixed in space create an electrostatic or static field. This can occur through contact, friction, or detachment. Contact static buildup happens when 2 objects make contact with each other and electrons are transferred from one object to the other. Friction static buildup occurs when created when two objects create friction between them. One example is the shimmering in giant Asian honeybees that resembles a Mexican wave.

The 3rd form of static buildup is through detachment. This happens when, for example, you rip off a bandaid, or, adhesive tape from an object. All three forms of static buildup work on the same principle; the more force is applied, the bigger the increase of static electricity.

Atmospheric Electricity

Atmospheric electricity is always present. It usually occurs in the lower atmosphere (troposphere). We can observe this during thunderstorms with lightning. But it also exists when the weather is fine. Atmospheric electricity is created when the air of the Earth’s surface is charged negative and positively charged above the Earth´s surface. This electrical phenomena can influence weather patterns and it can also help insects find food, and deliver other important information.

Honeybees can detect Electricity Fields

A) Simulation of the electric potential (left) and magnitude of the electric field (right) around a flower in the presence of the average atmospheric electrical gradient of 100 V/m. Credit: Clarke et al (2013)

Flowers have an electrostatic field that bees are able to detect. These electrostatic fields can change when a bee visits a flower. This information allows bees to determine whether or not it is ´worth´ visiting these flowers where other insects fed previously, saving time and effort. Hunting said,

¨For instance, flowers have an electric field and bees can sense these fields. And these electric fields of flowers can change when it has been visited by a bee, and other bees can use that information to see whether a flower has been visited.¨

The Experiment

To measure the static electric currents of various creatures within the static field, the researchers used a camera and electric field monitors. When an insect or a honeybee flies, it creates a charge because of the friction in the air. The level of this charge varies between insects.

The researchers established that the electric charge of an individual bee is negligible. However, when they managed to measure the electric currents of honeybee swarm, they discovered charges ranging from 100 V to 1000 Volts per meter! That is about 6 times more than electrified dust storms, and about 8 times more intense than a thundercloud.

The monitor tracked the swarm for about 3 minutes while the swarm passed over. The team observed the thicker the honeybee swarm was, the greater was the electricity they generated. They noticed a profound effect on the atmospheric electric fields even though the weather had not changed.

Hunting concludes saying, their discoveries opened the way for future studies on the connection between the natural world and atmospheric electricity.

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