Observed electric charge of insect swarms and their contribution to atmospheric electricity

Ellard Hunting*, Liam J O'Reilly*, R. Giles Harrison, Kosta Manser, Sam J England, Beth H Harris, Daniel Robert

*Corresponding author for this work

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

6 Citations (Scopus)
54 Downloads (Pure)


The atmosphere hosts multiple sources of electric charge that influence critical processes such as the aggregation of droplets and the removal of dust and aerosols. This is evident in the variability of the atmospheric electric field. Whereas these electric fields are known to respond to physical and geological processes, the effect of biotic sources of charge has not hitherto been considered. Here, we combine theoretical and empirical evidence to demonstrate that honeybee swarms directly contribute to atmospheric electricity, in proportion to the swarm density. We provide a quantitative assessment of this finding, by comparing the electrical contribution of various swarming insect species with common abiotic sources of charge. This reveals that the charge contribution of some insect swarms will be comparable with that of meteorologically induced variations. The observed transport of charge by insects therefore demonstrates an unexplored role of biogenic space charge for physical and ecological processes in the atmosphere.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105241
Issue number11
Early online date24 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2022


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