The AP Biology Exam was given yesterday and there was a buzz about a portion of the exam that was about bees and caffeine. Students were told to study the typical biology topics: cells, DNA, natural selection, etc. They weren’t expecting a section about bees and caffeine. This of course peaked my interest, so I decided to look up information about bees and coffee.
Did you know caffeine in nectar is a common thing? Up to 55 percent of flowering plants are estimated to have caffeinated nectar. With this knowledge, there have been studies done on the effects of caffeine on bees. Bees are like people, they love caffeine and will seek it out. They dance up a storm, which they do when they find high quality nectar. But the caffeinated nectar isn’t nutritionally better than the plain nectar. According to Dr. Margaret Couvillon, caffeine causes the bee to overestimate the quality of the nectar. For the plants, the caffeine helps since more bee visits means more pollen carried around and better chances of reproduction. But caffeine doesn’t seem to offer much to the bees other than a nice buzz.
Bees may actually miss out on other sources that are as good or better because of the caffeine-laced nectar being available. Bees and flowers have a very long-standing, ancient relationship. But, as with many partnerships, the interests don’t always align. Some bees chew at the base of a flower to get nectar without having to load themselves up with pollen that they have to carry around as they fly. “There’s always a little arms race going on.” And in the grand scheme of things, this race may be a temporary one.
Source: New York Times, Twitter (links above).