Many of us can’t get through the day without at minimum one cup of coffee, or at least, we’d rather not think about trying. No matter how you choose to ingest caffeine, it is an awesome source of energy and focus for legions of hackers and humans. And evidently, the same goes for pollinator bees.
You’ve probably heard that there aren’t enough bees around anymore to pollinate all the crops that need pollinating. That’s old news. One solution was to raise them commercially and then truck them to farmers’ fields where they’re needed. The new problem is that the bees wander off and pollinate wildflowers instead of the fields they’re supposed to be pollinating. But there’s hope for these distracted bees: Scientists at the University of Greenwich have discovered that bees under the influence of caffeine are more likely to stay on track when given a whiff of the flower they’re supposed to be pollinating.
For the purposes of experimentation, scientists divided a swarm of bees into three groups: one got caffeinated sugar water and a blast of strawberry flower scent, the second got plain sugar water plus the scent, and the third got plain sugar water and no scent.
Then came the moment of truth — they released the bees into an indoor field of robotic flowers. Some of the flowers gave off the strawberry smell. Others emitted a different scent meant to distract the bees, and all the flowers contained plain sugar water as a reward for discovery.
The results point to a strong association between caffeine and scent: 70.4% of the caffeinated bees went straight for the strawberry flowers, while only 60% of the plain sugar water bees went for the strawberries first.
After a while, bees from all three groups eventually went for the distraction flowers. But that part of the experiment seems a bit skewed, as these distraction flowers were much closer in proximity to the target flowers than they would be in the real world. So until farmers set up caffeinated sugar water troughs for their bees to congregate before work, we won’t know how effective or long-lasting the jolt could potentially be.
There is research indicating that caffeine does enhance memory performance in humans, at least the college-aged ones suffering through early-morning exams. Many of us enjoy plenty of caffeine for focus well past the university years, including yours truly and our own [Jenny List].
Images via @chrisdubai