Some of your readers might be reading this article first thing in the morning, drinking your cup of coffee. Well, did you know…bees also like caffeine. It is proven that caffeine can improve insect's memories and encourages them to pollinate them.
Which plants contain caffeine?
The coffee plant is one of these flowers. From this plant, the nectar offers as much caffeine as a cup of instant coffee. However, some citrus plants contain caffeine as well, albeit in lower concentrations. It is found in grapefruits, lemons, pomelo and oranges as well.
The impact of caffeine
It is surprising that bees enjoy the taste of caffeine, usually caffeine has a bitter taste to ware off other insects but for bees they don't see, to mind. Yet studies have shown that this is because the dosage is too low for bees to taste the caffeine yet it does have side effects.
Honeybees get a shot of caffeine from certain flowers to perk up their memory. In studies, the effect of caffeine on bees was significant, with three times as many bees remembering the floral scent 24 hours later and twice as many bees remembering the scent after three days. Due to the speed that bees fly at, remembering floral traits is difficult. But caffeine intake can help improve their memory of where these flowers are at.
This caffeine burst also encourages the bees to return to the same type of plant, boosting its chances of pollination. Furthermore, bees that have fed on caffeine-laced nectar are laden with coffee pollen and these bees search for other coffee plants to find more nectar, leading to better pollination.
It is also interesting to note, as with humans, caffeine can overstimulate the brain. For bees, the effect of caffeine is akin to drugging, where the honey bees are tricked into valuing the forage as a higher quality than it really is.
Although human and honeybee brains obviously have lots of differences, when you look at the level of cells, proteins and genes, human and bee brains function very similarly. Thus, we can use the honeybee to investigate how caffeine affects our own brains and behaviors.
Understanding a honeybee’s habits and preferences could help find ways to reinvigorate the species to protect our farming industry and countryside.