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Honeybees Electrify their Environment

Updated: Apr 10

Honeybees Electrify their Environment
Honeybees Electrify their Environment

A new study by researchers at the University of Bristol from the U.K. has revealed that swarming honeybees generate electrical charges that can be big enough to match meteorological events like thunderstorms! Focusing on how different organisms utilize static electrical fields in the surrounding environment, the study consisted of electric monitors throughout the university’s field station recording currents generated by honeybee swarms passing over them for roughly 3 minutes each, capturing charges up to 1000 volts per meter.

The researchers noticed in particular that the density of the swarm was directly proportional to the size of the electrical charge generated. Every flying insect can generate a charge in flight from friction in the air, but bees individually carry a charge “small enough to be overlooked by researchers”, so this effect from swarming came as a surprise (Khalil, 2022). This might have important implications for the long-distance transportation of air particles; as the study itself points out, abiotic sources of atmospheric electrical charge can influence certain processes like the ‘aggregation of droplets and the removal of dust and aerosols” (Hunting et al., 2022). Since honeybees have proven capable of generating atmospheric electrical charges on par with storms, that implies that bees and other insects that fly in swarms also influence droplet aggregation and dust transportation. It has been long known that the bee’s crucial role as a pollinator implies ecosystem and societal collapse if bees vanish altogether. But if the bees are disappearing or struggling, might the aggregation of water droplets and removal of potentially harmful particles be compromised too? This goes to show just how bees are involved in the ecological processes that shape our lives in even more remarkable ways then we could’ve imagined.

 Swarming honeybees can produce as much electricity as a thunderstorm
Swarming honeybees can produce as much electricity as a thunderstorm

Khalil, H. (2022, Oct 26). Swarming honeybees can produce as much electricity as a thunderstorm, study shows.CNN.

Hunting, E. R., O’Reilly, L. J., Harrison, R. G., Manser, K., England, S. J., Harris, B. H., & Robert, D. (2022). Observed electric charge of insect swarms and their contribution to atmospheric electricity. IScience, 105241.

Written by Sophie Dutsch-Zdanowicz

Environmental Science Major

University of California Santa Barbara

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