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

OPEN Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America | 2 Jun 2016

GP Sutton, D Clarke, EL Morley and D Robert
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.
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Concepts
Honey bee, Bee, Bumblebees, Electromagnetic field, Bombus terrestris, Electromagnetism, Bumblebee, Electric charge
MeSH headings
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