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Electric sensing in fish & bees’ nightvision

23 June 2022

2 minutes to read

Electric sensing in fish & bees’ nightvision

Katy Chapman is a Psychology PhD student interested in the relationship between how animals sense their environment and their resulting behaviours. She is currently working towards her PhD, investigating how bumblebees forage for food under different lighting conditions – natural and artificial.

Katy is based in the Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour, and is supervised by Professor. Natalie Hempel de Ibarra, Professor. Kevin Gaston, and Roger English from the South Devon AONB.

What is your background?

I got into academic biology as soon as I could, studying Biological Sciences at undergraduate, which was very broad. I was introduced to sensory ecology through a fantastic series of lectures and immediately latched on to it – I think it was a lecture on electric sensing in fish and bees that made my jaw drop, having never heard of this sense before, and I knew there couldn’t be anything more fascinating than this. I then went on to work on social colour change in chameleons, bird flight, and for my research Masters the impact of motorboat noise on breeding fish.

I currently work in the realm of insect vision, working out how bumblebees change their foraging behaviour in different light conditions – particularly at sunrise and sunset, but also how artificial light pollution could be affecting them.

What’s next for your research?

I’m writing this while taking a break from my current lab experiment, where I’m looking at how good bees are at collecting food when they are in a dim light environment. I also have a big field season planned this summer, when I’ll head out to the South Devon AONB in Devon to see what the bees are up to in naturally dimming light.

I’m nearing the end of my PhD, so I’d really love to get my work out there now – I’ve got a few papers in the pipeline but have also just had a fantastic weekend sharing my work with the super enthusiastic general public of Exeter for Soapbox Science. I’d love to do more events like that in the near future!

What are the best and worst things about your field of work?

Unfortunately now that I work on a pollinator, I am excruciatingly aware of poor practice in providing for pollinators in the UK, especially in agriculture and hedgerow management (although so many land owners do an amazing job!) and my biggest bug-bear, lawns! If you are reading this and want to make a difference, let your lawn grow out and encourage wildflowers to pop up – I’m certain that once you get used to it being slightly less manicured, you’ll appreciate the gorgeous colours and pollinators that you’ll attract in.

On the flip side, I really do love my job. I get to study fantastic little creatures and I’m surrounded by curious people. The excitement when I find out a new fact about animal senses and behaviour is unparalleled – and even more so when I found it out through my own research!

Katy Chapman spoke at the 2022 Soapbox Science event in a talk entitled “Late night snacks: How do bumblebees gather food at sunset?”.
Find out more about the event here:
Soapbox Science Exeter



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