How Bees Can See the Invisible


{music} Welcome to It’s Okay To Be Smart, I’m DOCTOR
Joe Hanson [cheering and music]. For bees and flower blossoms, springtime is
all about two things: feeding and fertilizing. See the flowers want to pass their genes on
to the next generation, and the bees need to eat so they can do the same. So they use
a little teamwork. But how do bees find flowers? And how do flowers find bees? What does a
bee see when they see one of these? For millions of years plants have evolved
to depend on insects and other pollinators to carry their genes on to the next generation. A flower is like a big neon sign they use
to say “land here!” In return for getting a helping hand in making
baby plants, most flowers offer up a tasty treat in the form of nectar. It’s like a dinner date, only you eat afterwards. Biologists call this kind of arrangement “mutualism”.
The flower gets to spread its genes, and the worker bee gets a sugary drink and packs her
knees with golden protein-rich pollen to take back to the thousands of hungry mouths back
at the hive. Everybody gets what they want. Flowers sure look pretty to us, but bees see
them in a completely different light. Literally. Not only do they see the world through these
compound eyes made of thousands of individual pixels, they see a world bathed in ultraviolet.
Way beyond what our eyes can see. We see this. And they see THIS. See, special pigments absorb the UV light
and they paint this big bullseye in the center of the flower, guiding the bee to the tasty
nectar and of course, that sweet, sweet pollination. Now the relationship between flowers and bees
goes way beyond the visual. Scientists from the University of Bristol recently discovered
that bees can sense a flower’s electric field. Just like when you run across a carpet in
your socks, bees build up a positive charge as they buzz through the air. And flowers
are slightly negative. This helps pollen jump from the flower to
the bee like electric velcro. It also helps the bee figure out if another worker has already
visited that flower and slurped up all the goodness. Now, nobody knows quite how the bees sense
that electric charge, but their fuzzy little bodies might be buzzing like your hair when
you rub a balloon across it. Now, evolution’s been playing matchmaker between
bees and flowers for millions of years, resulting in one of nature’s closest relationships. So next time you see a bee buzzing around
the garden on a warm spring afternoon, imagine how their world looks, and think about how
much of nature is invisible unless you see it through the right pair of eyes. Thanks for watching! Leave us a comment and
let us know if YOU have a question. Make sure to subscribe, and as always, stay curious
. . . and stop to smell the flowers.

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