Going with the Flow: Amazing Bioelectric Animals

Award-winning science and technology writer Sally Adee has a fascinating book called, We Are Electric- Inside the 200-year Hunt for Our Body’s Bioelectric Code, and What the Future Holds, available at our local Lake County libraries; and in it she explains the natural electricity that flows through all of us, in all of our intricate parts. Of course I knew that, right?  What was well, shocking, ( pun intended) was that not only is it understood that electricity flows through us, but it flows through each and every one of our trillions of cells, AND it flows through all living things- even the blue dragonfly my husband witnessed one day as it lit upon, and then carried off its struggling captive prey, a monarch butterfly, which also had its own ‘electrical system’!

Science has long understood that bioelectricity runs the communication from the brain to the nervous system, but there is so much more that is known now. Every cell carries its own voltage, which can actually be measured by a device called a voltmeter, named after Alessandro Volta, the Italian physicist and chemist who pioneered  electricity and its power. We are packed with our own minuscule power plants! Thankfully, we don’t give off a charge like an electric eel, technically a fish, that lives in the Amazon River, a critter that can expel enough of an electrical charge to stun a horse, or like Africa’s electric catfish that can give off 350 volts! While those water dwellers are extreme in their electric hunting methods, some sharks, and even some dolphin species use ‘electroreception’ to locate their prey without stunning them.

Today, it’s understood that bumblebees are led to pollinate flowers not only via the colors and patterns of the plants, but they can sense a flower’s electric field! And, as if that wasn’t astounding enough, the bees are known to differentiate between the various flower’s shapes as well as knowing if it has previously been visited by other insects. Since bees make contact with charged particles of molecules as they fly this causes friction, which in turn gives the bees a positive charge. The flowers they frequent tend, on non-cloudy days, toward a negative charge. However, the air surrounding a flower’s petals accumulates a negative charge. When the positive meets the negative charge the pollen leaps to the bee!

Human and animal electrical systems differ obviously, from species to species and from that of our appliances and games since ours is the stuff of bioelectricity. Bioelectricity is a form of communication between brain and body. It’s an electrical phenomenon or cell function; the action of electric currents in biological processes.

The future is bright for the science of bioelectricity. Adee’s book discusses interesting bioelectric vistas and potential medical fields that may benefit from all of the current (no pun intended) research into electrical energy by powering organs, tissues and more. Famed writer Walt Whitman would be amazed, as many are with the latest scientific findings of this invisible force of nature, and may have wanted to add a new stanza to his famed Leaves of Grass, “I sing the body electric”. The takeaway pertaining to animals and plants and bioelectricity is that all living things, including bacteria and mammals generate and have definite uses for electricity that they each create. Ah, what a mysterious and wonderful world.

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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