February 11, 2010
Bees Caffeine And Nicotine Fiends

Some innocent-looking flowers are really dope pushers who hook bees on drugs. Bees prefer nectar that contains caffeine and nicotine.

Bees prefer nectar with small amounts of nicotine and caffeine over nectar that does not comprise these substances at all, a study from the University of Haifa reveals. “This could be an evolutionary development intended, as in humans, to make the bee addicted,” states Prof. Ido Izhaki, one of the researchers who conducted the study.

Do bees get a buzz from the drugged nectar?

The innocent and sweet portions of the plant and animal kingdom never are as sweet and innocent as natural mythologies would have us believe. The never ending competition for survival and reproductive success ensures that the competition is brutal, relentless, and amoral.

Update: Don't start feeling sorry for those drug addicted bees. Oh no. Honey bees are no more innocent than drug pusher flowers. Those supposedly innocent natural honey bees fight bees from rival colonies for food. It is a Malthusian bee-eat-bee world out there.

A biologist at UC San Diego has discovered that honey bees warn their nest mates about dangers they encounter while feeding with a special signal that's akin to a "stop" sign for bees.

The discovery, detailed in a paper in the February 23 issue of the journal Current Biology, which appears online today, resulted from a series of experiments on honey bees foraging for food that were attacked by competitors from nearby colonies fighting for food at an experimental feeder. The bees that were attacked then produced a specific signal to stop nest mates who were recruiting others for this dangerous location. Honey bees use a waggle dance to communicate the location of food and other resources. Attacked bees directed "stop" signals at nest mates waggle dancing for the dangerous location.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 February 11 05:27 PM  Brain Addiction

Fat Man said at February 11, 2010 7:02 PM:

Don't put you cigarettes out in your half drunk can of mountain dew.

random said at February 12, 2010 8:12 AM:

Does the nicotine/caffeine end up in the honey? That would be a fantastic product! "Buzzed Honey"

Lono said at February 12, 2010 8:16 AM:




So does this mean we should "dope up" our our plants a little to get better and more efficient pollination?


etaoin said at February 12, 2010 9:23 AM:

Another interesting, provocative post, Futurepundit.

"an evolutionary development intended, [he said intended!] as in humans, to make the bee addicted,” states Prof. Ido Izhaki.

Huh? So, is it professor Ido Izhaki's opinion, as stated, (or anyone else's) that coffee plants somehow evolved the ability to make caffeine "with intent" to encourage humans to cultivate them for the caffeine? Really?

Does this strike anyone, evolutionistas included, as something of a stretch? It isn't even natural selection, it is called agriculture.

It seems pretty simple to to just reason as follows: If a bit of caffeine from certain plants stimulates the bees, then they (and other bees in turn) will become more energetic in their gathering of the nectar from those plants.

Bob Badour said at February 12, 2010 9:38 AM:


I sympathize with the point you seem to be making. It's a mistake for scientists to anthropomorphize. That's one of the human tendencies that lead to magical religious belief substituting for real thought. I sometimes wonder whether scientists who do so simply indulge one of their own drives or whether they believe it will make the science more accessible.

Obviously, the flowers didn't intend anything. The bees simply bred the flowers to reward them with caffeine through preferential pollination.

RSweeney said at February 13, 2010 2:24 PM:

Both are mild stimulants, one wonders if the advantage is not "addiction" but increased activity/pollination.

godsen said at February 13, 2010 3:42 PM:

Caffeine and nicotine? I'm sure they get a real buzz out of them.

Josh said at February 13, 2010 3:49 PM:

Oh, you marvelous bees, you makers of honey, you violent dope fiends! Bee communication never fails to delight.

@etaoin: As an "evolutionista," I reckon that Dr. Izhaki spoke too loosely, perhaps because he is a non-native speaker. I think he may have meant: "...intended to make the bee addicted, as these compounds do in humans." It's fairly well established that nicotine and caffeine are adaptations to prevent animals from eating too much of a plant, as are other stimulants, and even drugs such as aspirin.

As for "intended"... Intent and purpose are hard concepts to rid from one's lexicon, and often crop up in science. We evolved language to talk about other human actors, who intend and design, and we do not have better common words for the effect of evolution on organisms, and for interactions between organisms. Be certain that the human notion of "intent" is not what Dr. Izhaki meant.

Bob Badour said at February 13, 2010 4:40 PM:


Actually, we do have better words. It's possible--and quite simple--to describe things with accuracy. All it takes is discipline.

When we infer intent even with people, we generally get it wrong. See: "fundamental attribution error"

As for Dr. Izhaki being a non-native speaker, if anything, that would tighten up his use of language:

One more remark about language that seems relevant. With English being computing science's Esperanto, colleagues with English as their native tongue often feel somewhat guilty about what they regard as their undeserved advantage over most foreigners. Their feeling of guilt is misplaced, because the advantage is ours. It is very helpful to have to do your work in what always remains a foreign language, as it forces you to express yourself more consciously. -- EWD709

chesterton said at February 14, 2010 2:30 AM:

Sounds like it's a good idea to add crushed caffeine pills to the candy feed they get at times to boost them.

Micha Elyi said at February 15, 2010 2:19 PM:

Any chance that it's 'cheaper' for the plants to attract bees by spiking the nectar than to produce the quantity and quality of nectar that would be equally attractive to bees?

Also, I like Lono's suggestion. Maybe buzzed bees are more likely to behave in ways that spread pollen around to more places, an advantage for the plant's genes.

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