That buzz you hear coming from spring’s first flowers? It may be caffeine-enhanced. And no, the bees aren’t standing in line to get their espresso fix. They’re getting it from the flowers! According to this article reporting on a new study published in Science by Geraldine Wright of Newcastle University and her colleagues, flowers are producing caffeine-powered nectar in order to change pollinator behavior. Why? Apparently the competition for pollinators amongst plants is so intense that some plants have settled on a game of one-upmanship by offering more and more desirable rewards to their insect compatriots, including buzzy, buzzy caffeine. The caffeinated pollen is found most commonly in coffee and citrus plants and seems to be similar in concentration to the same weak cuppa joe you can grab on many a New York City Street corner. Who knew? Bees, they’re just like us! ~AR
As if bumblebees weren’t already cool enough, this just in: they’re using electric fields to judge whether or not a flower has already been plundered of its pollen by another pollinator. This article from Scientific American says that the bees “build up a positive electrical charge as they rapidly flap their wings.” This is useful to the bees and the flowers as it helps the pollen more tightly cling to the bees. But it also turns out that it minutely changes the electrical field of flowers which have already been visited by another bee, and the bees can see this. As I have said so many times before, and will probably say a thousand times again, nature is so totally cool! ~AR
Orange blossom honey, or clover? Maybe “wildflower.” Or how about the “colorful candy shell” blend? If not for stringent rules dictating that honey, by definition, must be made from plant nectar, you might be facing down this wacko decision right now.
As it turns out, humans aren’t the only ones wrestling with the habit of choosing artificial sweetness over the real deal. Bees, too, are susceptible. And farmers in the north of France found this out the hard way when they discovered their hives plugged up with a kaleidoscope of blue, green, and muddy red “honey.”
Sadly, they weren’t having waking hallucinations. Their bees had decided that open containers of candy coloring from a nearby processing plant put up easier fare than nearby flower fields. But this isn’t exactly a fluke of the natural world, as a batch of blood-red bee juice out of Red Hook, Brooklyn proved in 2010. Maraschino-cherry flavored honey on your ice cream, anyone?
For now, the farmers are saying they can’t sell the colorful stuff; the French laws on the definition of honey preclude them from it. But something tells me the market is there, if only they start advertising to the new gastronomy set of NYC.
Bees are super smart. According to a new study conducted in England, bumblebees have the learning capabilities—at least when it comes to finding fruitful flowers—equal to those of much more “advanced” animals like humans, sharks, and … octopuses. The team of researchers at Queen Mary University of London conducted an experiment to see how well the bees could learn the best route between the most pollen-laden flowers. The answer? Quickly. Click through for the full story! ~AR
Slate Magazine’s Explainer column answers one of life’s great questions: Just how busy are bees? Apparently some are very busy, while others are quite lazy. And while bees don’t catch cat naps quite like humans (or cats) do, they do indulge in periods of intense relaxation where they “stop moving, relax their muscles, and let their antennae gradually slump.’ Sounds pretty good to me! ~AR
The bees have been busy in recent weeks, as I noticed with the camellias and Amur Adonis along the Ladies’ Border and elsewhere just last week. Photographers were flocking to the blooms to get a shot of nature in perfect light. And while my cell phone pictures did absolutely no justice to what I was seeing, it seems Mockba1_1999 was the photographer for the job. —MN
(Source: Flickr — Mockba1_1999)