Bees: they’re just like us! Scientists have discovered that bees love caffeine so much, they’ll seek out caffeinated nectar over normal nectar, even if that decision is detrimental to the hive as a whole.
Many plants produce caffeine, primarily in their leaves as a naturally bitter deterrent against plant-devouring insects, like caterpillars. Scientists already knew that bees liked caffeine but they didn’t realize they were addicted to the stuff. Apparently, those fed the caffeinated solution were more likely to do a little dance repeatedly, like they were all exclaiming “ermahgehrd caffeine!!!” They came back to their hives more jittery than Kramer using a Shake Weight, waggling like crazy.
They also were less likely to investigate other, uncaffeinated food sources once they’d gotten a whiff of that quality plant-made roast. That’s good for plants that use caffeine to attract bees, but bad for the bees, who become over-reliant on a single species of plant.
“What I think it does is make them exploited pollinators,” Margaret Couviillon, one of the researchers, told The New Scientist. “The plants are tricking them into foraging in ways that benefit the plant, not the bee.”
After trying the god nectar, the bees became instantly hooked. “These poor bees came back for four or five days afterwards, and they were kind of desperate,” Couvillon says. Instead of looking for other sources of nectar, the bees just kept chasing the buzz.
“The bees weren’t just caffeine fans; they were caffeine evangelists,” according to The Atlantic. In the process, they’d actually ingested less nectar than those who hadn’t become addicted. This lead the study’s authors to believe that plants shortchange the bees with caffeine-spiked nectar so they don’t have to create as much of it.
“Nature is not big on honesty unless it’s somehow enforced,” according to James Nieh, also interviewed by The New Scientist. “It’s kind of an arms race.”