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Swarming bees stir up their own electric fields

Insect swarms can generate more volts per meter than thunderstorms

A colony of bees swarm near a hive
Edgar Chaparro/Unsaplash

When bees fly, tiny hairs on their bodies vibrate as they move through the air, collecting a small amount of electrostatic charge. Now, researchers have measured the collective electric field produced by a whole swarm of buzzing, boisterous Western honey bees (Apis mellifera)—and found it’s a lot bigger than they had imagined, New Scientist reports. Using electric field monitors and video cameras, scientists discovered these insect clouds can generate 100 to 1000 volts per meter. That’s similar to the charge density of a thunderstorm, the researchers report this week in iScience. The team isn’t sure whether the bees benefit in any way by creating this electric field, but some suspect it may help them search for food.

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