From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published March 11, 2013 01:42 PM

Honeybees Get the Caffeine Buzz

Most of us rely on a cup of coffee to jump start our day. For us, that jolt of caffeine wards off drowsiness and restores alertness. Not only does caffeine help to wake us up, but it also can affect our memory. So how does caffeine affect other species in the animal kingdom? Does anything else share our addiction to morning caffeine? Well according to new research, it seems that honeybees also get their buzz from drinking caffeine-laced nectar.

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Caffeine is naturally found in the nectar of coffee and citrus flowers and for honeybees feeding on these flowers, researchers found that they were three times more likely to remember a flower's scent after 24 hours than those feeding on just sugar. Also, twice as many bees remembered the scent of the caffeine-laced flowers after three days.

For honeybees, researchers have shown that caffeine can improve a honeybee's memory and consequently help a plant recruit more bees to spread its pollen.

Study leader Dr Geraldine Wright, Reader in Neuroethology at Newcastle University, explained that the effect of caffeine benefits both the honeybee and the plant: "Remembering floral traits is difficult for bees to perform at a fast pace as they fly from flower to flower and we have found that caffeine helps the bee remember where the flowers are."

Wright explains that bees that fed on caffeine-laced nectar come into contact with the coffee pollen and therefore help the plant pollinate as they travel from plant to plant.

Wright also stated: "Caffeine in nectar is likely to improve the bee's foraging prowess while providing the plant with a more faithful pollinator."

In the study, researchers found that the nectar of Citrus and Coffea species often contained low doses of caffeine. Grapefruit, lemons, pomelo and oranges were also sampled and all contained caffeine.

While these species may taste sweet or sour to us, the caffeine-nectar can be like a cup of strong black coffee that is bitter to taste and too much caffeine can actually repel honeybees. Co-author Professor Phil Stevenson from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the University of Greenwich's Natural Resources Institute said: "Caffeine is a defense chemical in plants and tastes bitter to many insects including bees ... However, it occurs at a dose that’s too low for the bees to taste but high enough to affect bee behavior."

Read more at Newcastle University.

Honeybee image via Shutterstock.

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