With the electricity on, bees could more easily learn which of the faux flowers had sugar and which had the quinine solution. When Robert removed the electric charge, the bees found the sugar only by chance.
“It’s another dimension of sensory perception that bees cleverly use to exploit flowers in an efficient way,” says Lars Chittka, a biologist at Queen Mary University of London who was not part of the study. Biologists believe the differences in charge around the flowers cause the small hairs on a bee’s body to bend slightly, indicating a good flower is nearby.
“Bees can learn very well,” Robert says. “Electricity provides them with an extra bit of information that makes them a little bit more clever.”
[This article originally appeared in print as "Honey, I Shocked the Bees."]