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Buzzing Bees

October 21, 2015

Plants turn honeybees into caffeine addicts.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Bees with a buzz on. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Seems honeybees like their daily buzz. In the journal Current Biology, University of Sussex biologist Margaret Couvillon reports that, when given a choice, bees heavily prefer nectar containing caffeine over nectar of similar sweetness that’s caffeine-free. Even days after the caffeinated nectar was gone, the bees kept returning, not bothering to search the area for alternative options.

MARGARET COUVILLON (University of Sussex):

They are all out ready to go for the caffeine source verses the decaffeinated source even though they are actually energetically identical.

HIRSHON:

Couvillon suspects plants may produce the high-octane nectar to cut corners: watered-down nectar with less sugar is easier for plants to produce but is usually shunned by bees; lacing it with caffeine tricks them into craving it.

COUVILLON:

We may be describing a way that the plants are actually cheating the honeybees.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.