Bees Buzzing on Caffeine


Bee on a yellow lehua flower, photographed in Hawaii.

• Nectar from certain flowering plants contain caffeine; citrus flowers, and coffee plant flowers. It seems that bees fed on a diet of caffeinated nectar have improved memory, and desire for more caffeinated nectar.

• Scientists compared this phenomenon to Pavlov’s dog: “It’s a little bit like Pavlov’s dog,” explains Phil Stevenson of the Royal Botanic Garden in Kew, UK. “When Pavlov rang the bell, the dog salivated. And in this case, when the bee detects the smell, it extends its proboscis.”

• The scientists then tested if the bees would respond differently to caffeinated nectar flowers Vs normal sugary nectar flowers. Indeed, it turns out that bees feeding on the caffeinated nectar were three times more likely to remember the flowers 24 hours later. The caffeinated bee had better memory. The advantages are obvious, as these bees are better at locating food compared to other pollinating insect competitors.

• Could this be applied to humans? It appears that in moderate doses, caffeine can help improve short-term memories and ability to pay attention in sleep deprived, exhausted volunteers. However, in the absence of exhaustion, caffeine does not appear to have this effect.


Original paper (unfortunately not Open Access) and press release.

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