Bees and thunderclouds: More alike than you may think

Bees and thunderclouds: More alike than you may think

A new study has found bees can produce as much atmospheric electric charge as a thundercloud, raising questions about the environmental implications.

The authors say the bee-induced charge can help shape weather events, and lift spiders into the air and plop them a far distance away.

Most living creatures carry an innate electric charge. Researchers found that honeybee hive swarms can change atmospheric electricity by 100 to 1,000 volts per metre.

And bees aren't the only ones that can do this. Think about locusts - their giant swarms can cover hundreds of kilometres and be made up of up to 80 million insects. It's believed their influence is likely far greater than that of honeybees.

“We always looked at how physics influenced biology, but at some point, we realized that biology might also be influencing physics,” says first author Ellard Hunting, a biologist at the University of Bristol, in a statement.

“We’re interested in how different organisms use the static electric fields that are virtually everywhere in the environment.”

The discovery that there is a link between biology and static electric fields is new - and it raises questions that warrant further study.

For example, how do these charges impact very tiny things, like microbes? and do they have any influence over big things, like the global electric circuit?

Only time will tell - but the study does highlight one important point -- that all creatures play a role in the ecosystem, sometimes in ways we just starting to understand.