By measuring the electric fields near swarming honeybees, researchers have found that insects can produce as much atmospheric electrical charge as a thundercloud. This type of electricity helps shape weather conditions, aids insects in finding food, and lifts spiders into the air to migrate great distances. The study, which will appear in the journal Oct. 24 iScienceshows that living things can influence atmospheric electricity.
“We’ve always looked at how physics affected biology, but at some point we realized that biology could also affect physics,” said first author Ellard Hunting, a biologist at the University of Bristol. “We are interested in how different organisms use the static electric fields that exist virtually everywhere in the environment.”
As with most living things, bees carry an innate electrical charge. After finding that swarms of beehives alter atmospheric electricity by 100 to 1,000 volts per meter, increasing the electric field force normally experienced at ground level, the team developed a model that can predict the influence of other insect species.
“How insect swarms affect atmospheric electricity depends on their density and size,” said study co-author Liam O’Reilly, a biologist at the University of Bristol. “We also calculated the influence of locusts on atmospheric electricity, as locusts swarm on Biblical scales, measuring 460 square miles with 80 million locusts in less than a square mile; their influence is probably much greater than that of honeybees.”
“We have only recently discovered that biology and static electric fields are closely related and that many unsuspected connections may exist at different spatial scales, ranging from microbes in the soil and interactions between plants and pollinators to insect swarms and perhaps the global environment.” electrical circuit,” Elard says.
“Interdisciplinarity is valuable here — electric charge may seem like it only lives in physics, but it’s important to know how the entire natural world is aware of electricity in the atmosphere,” said study co-author Giles Harrison, an atmospheric physicist. from the University of Reading.
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