Even the busiest bees need a little pick-me-up in the morning. A new study by researchers at the University of Sussex finds that bees love a little caffeine, and prefer nectar that gives them a little extra buzz.
The paper, published in the journal Current Biology, tested bees' preferences for caffeinated nectar and an equal-quality but non-caffeinated alternative. As many as 55 percent of plants have low concentrations of caffeine in their nectar, and previous research has found that caffeinated nectar can increase bees’ memory of a flower’s scent.
When presented with a pair of sugary nectars in the lab, one with caffeine and one without, bees foraged for food more when they ate the caffeinated nectar, and directed their fellow bees to that food source more often. They directed other bees to the caffeinated nectar four times more than when they had eaten non-caffeinated nectar, and would return to the source of caffeine even after that feeder had run dry. After eating caffeinated nectar, they were less likely to seek out other sources of food. In short, they got sort of addicted.
Plants “may be tricking the honey bee by securing loyal and faithful foraging and recruitment behaviors, perhaps without providing the best quality forage," University of Sussex researcher Margaret Couvillon explains in a press release. The bees get tricked into thinking the caffeinated nectar is a higher quality food source than it really is, and aren’t too interested in diversifying their nectar sources. Now imagine what they would do with a nectar Keurig.