The Web of Life (8-3) Electrical


Intracellular communication relies heavily upon electric charges. Nerve cells employ a combination of electrical and chemical communication. The electrical portion is used for rapid, long-distance signaling, whereas the chemical is up-close and intercellular.

Little is known about electric field communication between organisms. Bacteria use electric currents to forage and communicate. Electric fish chat via electric fields.

Bees acquire a positive charge of up to 200 volts as they fly through the air. Flowers emit weak negatively charged electric fields which an approaching bee can detect.

When a bee lands on a flower, the floral field changes, altering the electrical potential for several minutes. This lets another bee know that the flower has already been visited.

Electric eels¬†are powerful persuaders. They emit high-voltage zaps through the water as a hunting probe. The electric shock causes involuntary muscle twitches in nearby prey, which reveals to the eel the prey’s presence.

Upon such a finding, an electric eel approaches and turns up the wattage. Within 3 milliseconds, the prey is stunned into joining the eel for supper, as the main course.

Cuttlefish, squid, and octopi can consciously change their coloration in milliseconds, rapidly recloaking when facing danger. Cuttlefish can also freeze their movements, greatly reducing their ventilation rate and electrical output. This diminishes the risk of a shark being able to detect them. Sharks are sensitive to electric pulses at close range.