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TECHNOLOGY

Surprisingly, bees generate more electricity than a storm cloud

Bee hives can generate an electrical charge greater than those generated by storm clouds and electrified dust storms.

A team from the University of Bristol, UK, tracked weather from a field station, observing that their electric field monitors recorded a jump in atmospheric electric charge even when there was no thunderstorm activity. At the same time, western honeybees were swarming, something the animals do when looking for a new home.

Apis mellifera bees

Also known as domestic or honey bees, they are the most widely distributed bees in the world, originating in Europe, Africa, and part of Asia. They were classified by Charles Linnaeus in 1758 and are considered one of the best social insects, since their behavior is determined by a set of pheromones, which are secreted by various glands present in their body, each of these pheromones causes a specific behavior in bees.

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How to tell that bees generate so much energy?

The team, led by Ellard Hunting, set up electric field monitors and video cameras to measure the electric field and density of the swarms and waited for the bees in the area to swarm naturally.

They were able to capture three swarms passing through the monitors for three minutes and found that the swarms of these bees created an electrical charge ranging from 100 to 1,000 volts per meter. Once they analyzed the proximity of the bees to each other, they found that the denser the swarm, the stronger the electric field.

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After the observations, they compared the bees’ highest load with previous data from thunderstorm clouds, thunderstorms, and electrified dust storms, and found that the density of their swarms was eight times that of a thunderstorm cloud and six times that of a dust storm.

“When I looked at the data, I was surprised to see that it had a massive effect,” Hunting said in the paper published in iScience. Individual bees are known to carry a small charge, but never before has a strain of such magnitude been documented.

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It is not yet known whether this capacity is helpful for the bees or an accidental product of friction between their wings and air, as when people shake a balloon with our clothes. This charge could serve a purpose that is still unknown because bees use electric fields to forage for food, as explained by Victor Manuel Ortega-Jimenez of the University of Maine.

Now there is the question of whether this phenomenon can happen with all animals that fly, such as birds and bats, the work has opened up interesting questions to investigate.

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Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera

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