Bee Swarms Might Change the Weather with Electric Charges

Honeybees mostly keep to their hives, with worker bees collecting food and pollinating flowers. When a group grows too large, thousands of bees split off and swarm until they find a new home. And while you may be rightfully worried that swarming bees will sting you, it turns out they may also be able to give you an electric shock as well. Scientists measured the electric charge around swarms of bees at 1,000 volts per meter. That’s more electricity than a thunder cloud. The collective air friction as thousands of honeybees each flap their wings hundreds of times per second could be responsible for shifting weather patterns and dust particles in the atmosphere.

AI graphic of bees with electricity sparking flying in the blue sky
Ellard Hunting

So will bug swarms now factor in to weather predictions? Honeybee swarms aren’t even the largest cloud of insects on Earth. Much larger locusts gather in massive groups—millions of locusts can create swarms that are miles long. The scientific team predicts those Biblical clouds of insects would generate more electricity even than the electrified sand storms that black out the sun.

The team published their findings in the open-access peer-reviewed journal iScience. Both the paper and the news release include graphics made by artificial intelligence programs. Bees with little electrical bolts coming out of them like Pikachu are a bit haunting, but perhaps less scary than seeing the actual swarm of thousands upon thousands of bees and thinking about the invisible electrical fields they’re creating that have undiscovered effects on the atmosphere.

Graphic of bees with electric charge flying in a swarm with dark stormclouds
E.R. Hunting et al., iScience (2022)

We learned about this thanks to Live Science. It’s just one more story that can make it feel like we’re approaching the end of days. After all, now that we know hurricanes can indeed include sharks and swarms of bees might change the weather, things feel a bit more ominous. 

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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