By Larry Hodgson
As you sip your morning joe to help bring you out of the grogginess of early morning and into focus, you can thank the drug caffeine for the stimulus … and caffeine stimulates honeybees too!
It turns out that the nectar of many flowers contains caffeine: some 40 to 55% of blooms do contain this alkaloid. The principal role of caffeine is to protect the flowers and indeed the entire plant from marauding pests, as caffeine is primarily an insecticide and will repel many pests. For that reason, it’s mostly present in plant tissues, like leaves and flower petals. Only a very tiny amount of caffeine finds its way into flower nectar … but the little that does seems to act like a stimulant to bees, just as with humans.
Honey bees that discover flowers with caffeinated nectar tend to visit them more often and to share their location with their fellow workers. And studies show it improves their memory as well, making it easier for them to find the caffeine-laden flowers again.
Good for Flowers, Bad for Bees
This is a great thing for the plant (a dedicated repeat pollinator is very much to their advantage!) … but maybe not so good for the bees!
It turns out that honey bees continue to frequent caffeinated flowers even when they no longer have any pollen or nectar to give. So, they waste time on dud flowers rather than gathering the pollen and nectar their hives need from more generous, but uncaffeinated blooms. One study suggests that hives whose worker bees are hooked on caffeine produce about 15% honey less per day.
Definitely something beekeepers should mull over!