We aren’t the only ones getting hooked on caffeine. It seems bees also get caffeine buzzed. But is it beneficial for the pollinators?
There are plants that naturally use caffeine in larger concentrations as a protective shield. The bitter taste of the natural compound keeps predators away. Other plants that produce caffeine in smaller concentrations are in fact using the buzz-giving compound to attract pollinators. And to make them return over and over again.
One study conducted in 2013 showed that caffeine is beneficial to bees. It acts as a memory enhancer, allowing the insects to better remember floral scents. Geraldine Wright, researcher with the Newcastle University fed the bees caffeine in sufficient concentrations to give them the caffeine-buzz, but not sufficient that it became a deterrent through its bitterness. As such, the bees were observed to have become more attached to and return more often to those plants that offered caffeine to make their scents distinctive and not to deter predators.
At this point, it looks like caffeine in lower concentration helps the plants. What about the bees? Bees also get caffeine buzzed. Is it good for them? This was the question that the recent research conducted by Margaret Couvillon with the University of Sussex attempted to answer.
In this experiment, honeybees were trained to return to two sugar water feeders for foraging. One of the feeders held a little surprise. The sugar water also contained a low concentration of caffeine. The bees that foraged in the caffeine-laced sugar water returned here more often and almost exclusively.
Moreover, these bees returned to the hive to inform the others of the food-source more frequently than the uncaffeinated bees. Performing their specific dance more often resulted in those hives sending out four times more worker bees to that specific foraging source, making the bees almost addicted.
Did caffeine make the bees more efficient? It seems that wasn’t the case according to the research results. With a caffeinated food source, the bees are likely to exploit it long after it has lost all nutritious properties. Bees also get caffeine buzzed, but this doesn’t translate in more efficiency for the foraging army of pollinators. They become almost addicted to the caffeinated food sources and aren’t likely to move on to another source.
“The effects of caffeine in nectar are akin to drugging, where the pollinator’s perception of the forage quality is altered, which in turn changes its individual behaviors”,
according to the research team.
The findings of the study need to be tested outside a laboratory setting. However, these preliminary results indicate that caffeine gives bees a buzz, albeit a not too beneficial one.
Photo Credits: Flickr