Last week I led a wildflower hike along Wiley Canyon, part of the Towsley Canyon View Loop Trail. The Wild California Lilac (Ceanothus) was in full bloom, so much so that at times it seemed as though we were walking through a bluish-purple haze. And if you looked closely at the blossoms, you could see that the bees were hard at work, gathering nectar and pollen.
Flowers send signals to bees using their bright colors and subtle scents. We know that bees are red-blind but they can see yellow and blue colors. In fact, flowers send signals that we humans don’t see, like colors in the UV spectrum.
And just last month, we learned of yet another signal – electricity! Scientists from the University of Bristol reported that “bumblebees are able to find and distinguish electric signals given out by flowers.”
This week, we’ll take a look at how this electrical signal is created. Then in two week’s, we’ll see what this means for bumblebees.
What is this electrical signal and how is it created? You may remember from your high school physics class, that “static electricity is the result of an imbalance between negative and positive charges in an object. These charges can build up on the surface of an object until they find a way to be released or discharged.”
This imbalance can be a positive charge. According to Ed Young’s blog on NatGeo: “As bees fly through the air, they bump into charged particles from dust to small molecules. The friction of these microscopic collisions strips electrons from the bee’s surface, and they typically end up with a positive charge.” How high a charge? As high as 200 volts.
It can also be a negative charge. For example, we’ve know for a long time that plants carry a negative charge, in part because they’re “grounded” to dirt (which usually carries a negative charge) and in part in response to the positively charged atmosphere surrounding the plants. How high a charge? That depends on the elevation, since the atmosphere’s positive charge increases by 30 volts for every foot of elevation (on a calm day).
So now the stage is set. The positively-charged bumblebee approaches the negatively charged blossom to get a tasty snack. What happens next?
To visualize this, imagine yourself walking downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast. You’ve just walked down a carpeted flight of stairs while wearing the fuzzy orange and yellow striped socks your grandma gave you last Christmas. You see your cat and reach out to pet his ears. What happens next?
Check back in two weeks.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, April 3, 10, 17, & 24.
Saturday mornings, April 6 & 20.
New trail maps available. If you’d like to explore a bit on your own, the City of Santa Clarita has a website with trail maps of our local open spaces.
There’s also a new website for bicycle riders.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The SCV Outdoor Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
Or check out our Facebook page – L.A. Mountains.