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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Jun 28;113(26):7261-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1601624113. Epub 2016 May 31.

Mechanosensory hairs in bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) detect weak electric fields.

Author information

1
School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1TH, United Kingdom rscealai@gmail.com.
2
School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1TH, United Kingdom.

Abstract

Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) use information from surrounding electric fields to make foraging decisions. Electroreception in air, a nonconductive medium, is a recently discovered sensory capacity of insects, yet the sensory mechanisms remain elusive. Here, we investigate two putative electric field sensors: antennae and mechanosensory hairs. Examining their mechanical and neural response, we show that electric fields cause deflections in both antennae and hairs. Hairs respond with a greater median velocity, displacement, and angular displacement than antennae. Extracellular recordings from the antennae do not show any electrophysiological correlates to these mechanical deflections. In contrast, hair deflections in response to an electric field elicited neural activity. Mechanical deflections of both hairs and antennae increase with the electric charge carried by the bumblebee. From this evidence, we conclude that sensory hairs are a site of electroreception in the bumblebee.

KEYWORDS:

bees; behavior; electric fields; sensory biology

PMID:
27247399
PMCID:
PMC4932954
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.1601624113
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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