During the week I caught the tail end of a BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry’, this particular episode being called ‘A Shocking Surprise’, about the causes and effects of static electricity. During the programme it was mentioned that bees use static electricity to help them to identify the most nectar-rich flowers. As a teacher, I used this as an example when teaching static electricity during Physics lessons in order to demonstrate that Physics and Biology are not mutually exclusive subjects.

A bee in flight becomes slightly positively charged, whereas flowers tend to be negatively charged. When a bee lands on a flower the charges are neutralised. Hence a subsequent foraging bee will not be attracted to that flower that has had its electrical charge discharged.

Sir Terry bee

How bees use electric charge to identify the most nectar-rich flowers

This research was published by the University of Bristol in 2013; however Terry Pratchett seemed to have an inkling of this as early as 1975, as shown by a detail from ‘The Dark Side of the Sun’; Terry Pratchett, 1975 which shows a bee plugging itself into electrical receptors on flower stamens.


Detail from The Dark Side of the Sun, Terry Pratchett, 1975

The more time I spend with this exhibition, the more detail I notice, and the more I become aware of how much Terry’s observations and pithy comments chime with my own.