25 February 2014

Caffeine and Bees Addendum

Last Friday’s blog post, Caffeine, Health and Memory, discussed the finding that caffeine might aid your memory if consumed after, not before, you’ve studied whatever it is you’re trying to remember. The effect isn’t limited to you and me. An earlier study found that it works for honeybees. Although that study received wide media attention, I thought it would be a perfect addendum and maybe you missed it.
Honeybee on a citrus tree
blossom, Australia. (photo from

The nectar of plants from five different orders on the plant phylogeny contains caffeine. It’s possibly an evolved defensive mechanism, since the levels of caffeine are generally high enough to discourage plant-eating animals. Insects aren’t crazy about caffeine either, but it appears that some plants species evolved to have just the right levels to benefit their pollination.
Asian giant honeybee on coffee
 tree blossom, India. (photo by
 J. Ghazoul, www.northsouth.ethz.ch)

Research collaborators from the United Kingdom’s Newcastle, Dundee and Greenwich universities and Royal Botanic Gardens and Arizona State University found that honeybees were much more likely to remember a learned floral scent--and thus return to aid pollination--If they were rewarded with sucrose and caffeine instead of only sucrose.


Research paper in Science Magazine:
Press release and example article on the study:
Botany of caffeine-containing plants:

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