Static electricity causes the hairs to move and helps the bees find sources of pollen, scientists have discovered.
A similar electroreception sense may be found in other insects, many of which have similar body hairs, the University of Bristol researchers believe.
Three years ago a team from the same university showed that bumblebees can sense and interpret electrical flower signals. However, how they do it remained a mystery.
A study has shown that the bees’ hairs move rapidly in response to electric fields, sending messages to the nervous system.
Lead researcher Gregory Sutton, from the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “We were excited to discover that bees’ tiny hairs dance in response to electric fields, like when humans hold a balloon to their hair.
“A lot of insects have similar body hairs, which leads to the possibility that many members of the insect world may be equally sensitive to small electric fields.”
Flowering plants employ a variety of strategies to attract pollinators, including bright colours, patterns, and fragrances.