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Honey Bees Can't Resist Caffeine [VIDEO]

Oct 16, 2015 02:08 PM EDT
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Starting the day without coffee is basically impossible for some people and that may also be the case for some honey bees. Less tasty plants and flowers have become wise on this weakness and may even be lacing their nectar with caffeine to attract honey bees, a new study revealed.

"These new findings are a reminder that, while mutually dependent, the interests of plants and pollinators don't always align," Dr. Margaret Couvillon, leader of the study and a professor from the University of Sussex, said in a news release. "Some plants, through the action of a secondary compound like caffeine that is present in nectar, may be tricking the honey bee by securing loyal and faithful foraging and recruitment behaviors, perhaps without providing the best quality forage."

Previous studies have shown that honey bees are greatly affected by caffeinated nectar, which plants naturally possess in low concentrations. And once under the influence of caffeine, bees are actually better at learning and remembering particular scents and can even be tricked into valuing some plants for its pollin's caffeine content, as opposed its quality and quantity, explained Roger Schürch, co-author from the University of Sussex and the University of Bern.

To better understand the honey bee addiction to caffeine, researchers tested the bees response to a sucrose solution with field-realistic doses of caffeine, compared to caffeinated solutions. They found that the bees forage more frequently on the caffeinated sucrose solution and directed their friends to forage on the addictive nectar by using a wiggle-like dance. And the bees weren't didn't discourage from returning to the feeder even after the nectar ran dry. In fact, they had become so addicted to the caffeinated nectar that they persisted on searching for every last drop and were less inclined to forage elsewhere. A video of the study can be found online

(Photo : Dr. Roger Schürch)
One of the study's honey bees foraging at a feeder with the caffeinated sucrose solution.

"We were surprised at how – across the board – we saw an effect of caffeine just about everywhere we looked in foraging and recruitment, and all in the direction to make the colony more faithful to the caffeinated source compared to an equal-quality, uncaffeinated source," Schürch said in a statement.

This nectar preference could significantly impact pollination and honey production if plants reduce the sweetness of their nectar.

The study was recently published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology

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