Mechanosensory hairs in bumble bees (Bombus terrestris) detect weak electric fields

Gregory Sutton, Dominic Clarke, Erica Morley, Daniel Robert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)
577 Downloads (Pure)


Bumble bees (Bombus terrestris) use information from surrounding electric fields to make foraging decisions. Electro-reception in air, a non-conductive 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 bumble bee. From this evidence, we conclude that sensory hairs are a site of electro-reception in the bumble bee.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7261-7265
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number26
Early online date31 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2016


  • Electric fields
  • bees
  • sensory
  • hairs


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