Next Coffee Break, Invite a Bee – 4 Kinds of New Bee News


Bees Want a Little Caffeine Kick with Their Morning Smoke

Kidding of course, but science discovered that caffeine boosts a bee’s memory. Out on a picnic and notice bees buzzing your soda can? Like us, plants took a cue a very long time ago by adding it to nectar.

Many plants contain alkaloids such as caffeine and nicotine. Nicotine is found in 67 species of plant. Caffeine is in over 50 different plants.


These alkaloids are nasty tasting to herbivores and keep them from eating the plant, but the pollinators don’t stop visiting. That begs the question, “Why”. Pollinators don’t like bitter, but at low concentrations, bees appear to prefer caffeine infused nectar. The same with plants containing nicotine, bees love it.


Coffea and Citrus plants add caffeine into their sweet nectar. So why is it added? For the same reason humans ingest caffeine, to enhance cognition, memory and stamina.

Simply with sensory stimuli, the plant basically makes its flowers easier for the bee to learn, find and remember. These plants developed levels of these addictive substances to aid in attracting, while not repelling bees. Science does not know if bees have a preference or an addiction to caffeine or nicotine.

So science spiked the bee’s sweet nectar with a tiny drop of caffeine and found twice as many bees remembered the nectar scent of the treated flower three days later. Pretty cool, smarter bees, but not to mention, plants making sure the bees keep coming back!

Sleepy Bees Waggle Dance but a Slow Waltz

Who knew bees could be sleep deprived, but sleep deprived bees might be giving the wrong waggle. If their ability to communicate was diminished, this affected their efficiency of the nest-mates to forage by giving the wrong information.

How did scientists come to this conclusion? By scientists keeping bees up all night, bothering them continuously to the point of exhaustion. The bees were sent to forage, and upon their return, the scientists compared them to rested bees and watched them waggle. The rested bees were successful in sending the worker bees to the flower patch, but the exhausted bees made more errors when communicating the direction of the flowers rich in nectar.

Sleepy bees also have “difficult relearning“, who knew? Without sleep, the bees’ brains could not properly secure memories from the previous night, and the bees were forgetful. A cup of coffee might have given those sleepy bees a morning buzz. They should take a cue from the bees feeding on caffeinated nectar!


Bee Venom Gives a Knockout Blow to the AIDS Virus

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri have uncovered the virus killing toxin in bee venom which can kill the virus of AIDS. Remarkably the technique not only kills the virus, it leaves surrounding cells intact. So far, they have only shown this successfully in vitro, but it could lead to a possible cure in living creatures someday. Currently, they are only focusing on developing preventive treatments.


“Part of what makes the HIV virus so difficult to kill is its tiny size. It’s many times smaller than your average blood cell, which allows the sneaky virus to infect and kill white blood cells” says Before It’s News — “the very cells that are supposed to rub out viral infections,” says WebMD. More information on this fascinating discovery can be found here.


I have always been intrigued by bees from a very young age. Maybe we are programmed to see this creature as a miracle. It seems that much the bee comes in contact with, does or produces benefits us. Does this development not make you really appreciate the bee? How about wanting to make sure bees stay healthy and working?


Bees Get a Charge

Think caffeine is the only kick the bees are getting? Bees are also getting lured in by floral electrical fields sent out by those crafty flowers which react to the naturally charged bees. Honeybees usually possess a positive electric potential, where flowers often exhibit a negative potential. Hey opposites attract! It probably gives the sleepy bee a jolt too.


When bees are out flying around, air friction and the friction of their body parts causes the bee to become positively charged. When the bees lands on a flower, the negatively charged pollen just jumps on the bee and sticks like Velcro.


Bees get sweet nectar and flowers send off pollen. Any cue that increases pollination and foraging efficiency should be mutually beneficial to both parties, right? Right.


This study was reported in Science.

It is hard not to have respect for this tiny, remarkable creature. Bees rule!

More from Science on Bees:

Bees Have Magnetic Remanence

Bees orient to the Earth’s magnetic field, helping in comb building and pointing the direction home. Honey bees have iron (Fe3O4) in their butts!

A Common Pesticide Decreases Foraging Success and Survival in Honey Bees

Bees can’t find home.

Drugged Bees Go Missing

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
This entry was posted in Bees, garden and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

108 Responses to Next Coffee Break, Invite a Bee – 4 Kinds of New Bee News

  1. Bravo for a most comprehensive post about the bees. I have found as I have gotten older that I love science more and more and your posts bring it home…caffeine and nicotine in plants-who knew. I really enjoyed the follow up articles as well. If people could practice more natural pest control the bees would not be in such great jeopardy. Your post helps that message too Donna. I have been stung more times than I can say and all my fault, but I still love my bees. My garden would be nothing without them.

    • I remember as a kid I would always do my essays and reports on bees. It got where the teachers told me I had to “expand my horizons”. For such a perceivable simple insect, it really is so complex, almost beyond belief. No wonder there are scientists constantly looking into bees.

      Bees have many reasons why they are in jeopardy, but it is my belief that pesticide use, synergistic insecticide use that disrupts the nervous system, is the root core of all the problems. From varonna mites to air pollution to losing the way home, to cell tower waves, so many factors combine for the perfect storm in bee loss.

      When you consider 90% of all crops, that over 70% of them are pollinated by bees, we be in DEEP TROUBLE. Makes sense since crop production is the highest use of pesticides. I read the stats somewhere, but I don’t remember – it was astonishingly high though in terms of pounds used on commercial crops.

  2. Donna, this is fascinating information, and the photos are amazing!

  3. What a great piece, such interesting information. I don’t think I’ll look at bees the same way, knowing that they’re flying around all positively charged looking for a bit of nicotine or caffeine. Very cool, thanks!!

  4. Michelle says:

    That was really informative and well cited. Thanks for the info!

  5. Gotta love bees!

    I love them anyway, but if they can give us a cure for HIV I might just start worshipping them.

    • Every scientific paper I read on bees make me worship them, so I get the attraction. I subscribe to Science just to read up on the most current developments all across science, but the ones that interest me the most are those in Biology and Space understanding. I keep getting Science requesting my ‘paper’. I have to laugh because they some how mixed me up from an architect interested in materials development to a doctor. They are now sending me requests to Dr. Donna. Maybe I need to get my PHD!

  6. HolleyGarden says:

    I never knew that plants had caffeine and nicotine in them! So interesting! Now I know why sometimes bees will be all over one plant, and almost ignore another. The venom that kills the aids virus is so interesting! With so many viruses mutating these days, in the future we may all owe our lives to the bees – in more ways than one!

    • Well ornamental tobacco and nightshade are pretty common plants containing tobacco, potatoes, peppers and tomatoes are common veggies containing it. Now you know when the vegetable garden is swarming with bees, they are looking for a fix. Trees like orange, lemon and grapefruit give the bees their caffeine, but the common camellias do too.

  7. Bravo! Love the writing and the photos! My undergrad degree was in biology and ‘tho I’m an artist now, I still love reading about science. Well done.

    • I was a biology major before architecture too. I took all the sciences through organic chemistry and anatomy before making the switch. Why, the labs working on live animals made me sick. We gave strychnine to frogs (no anesthesia) and ‘hysterectomies’ to cats ( I won’t even tell you the bad part here), so I switched majors.

      • Yes, my worst class was radiation biology — we gave lethal doses to mice and saw how quickly (or slowly) they died. And what we did to live frogs, I don’t even want to talk about. Hope you enjoy architecture now. I know I am in a much better place now : )

        • Did you ever consider medical art? It is high paying I hear since you need artistic talent and a high degree of medical knowledge. I almost made that an occupation, but being creative, I was afraid I would try to make them too pretty and lose my job!!! In college when we had to diagram and draw anatomy parts, I always liked doing it.

          • I never considered medical illustration… as you rightly said, there is no real creativity in that field. You could not pay me enough to do a job like that.. too constricting.

  8. Phil Lanoue says:

    Absolutely outstanding photos and tremendous info too! I really like bees!

  9. Emily Heath says:

    Thanks Donna, a great explanation of the research. The British Bumblebee Conservation Trust is running a fundraising campaign to help feed our bumblebees at the moment, habitat destruction and soggy summers recently have been decreasing their numbers. Anyone interested in donating can do so at

    • I know you had a bad year last year. I find it sad anytime bees are lost, because they have so many problems that they face without weather being one of them. I was worried they could not forage last year. Here it was dry and bees like it dry and sunny. But the problem in our area was it was too dry and the meadows had very little bloom. That is why it is so important for home gardeners not to use pesticides and to keep plants that will feed the bees. I used to have ornamental tobacco here, and I remember how the bees loved it. I have to get some this year. It is not suited for our climate and only grows as an annual. I think it behaved as a biennial if I remember and reseeded though, just did not flower. Anyway, i will put it on the list this year.

      • Emily Heath says:

        It’s such a delicate balance – bees need rain, but not too much rain…good luck with your ornamental tobacco growing, now you know the science behind why bees love it!

  10. Jennifer says:

    Very interesting bee facts and amazing pictures Donna!

  11. Wow, three genuinely fascinating stories! And one of them potentially very sweet news! I’ll certainly bee watching for future developments!

    • It was four, but who’s counting. 😀 Bees are so highly studied lately mostly for their decline, but I am glad they look to them for so much more. It encourages people to understand how important it is to keep bees buzzing. Every garden that goes pesticide free helps out the little buzzers and we can only hope that commercial growers help as well. Fruit growers are so bad with spaying that all the ground bees that do early pollination on fruit trees are almost totally absent from the fields. It is not just the spraying either. The tilling of the rows to maintain weeds does not allow for ground bees to nest. Is it not funny how this works? You get free pollination and the fruit growers have to bring in bees that they pay for?

  12. Oh wonderful post on bees and I am concerned for all pollinators. i Love this style of post. I hope you are recovering well and in less pain Donna.. Michelle

    • I too have regards for all pollinators, but a special place in my heart for bees. I am up now, but can only be up for about half the day. I cannot wait to get back to the doctor and get the dressing changed though. I need a smaller dressing.

  13. Countryidyll says:

    Absolutely stunning photos! Amazing! Do you always use a tripod? If you have time to visit my blog I would appreciate your thoughts on a small bird that my cats brought in. I know you’re not in the UK, but you might be able to identify it. The closest I’ve come to identifying it is a chaffinch, but am not convinced.

  14. Your bee photos are absolutely amazing. You have a real gift with the macro lens.

  15. So fascinating! I think as humans we like to think of ourselves as different than the animals & insects around us but at the end of the day we are very much alike. Somehow I don’t feel so bad for needing my cup of morning coffee or sugar cravings, LOL! When it comes to plants and insects I wonder how much of it is communication or just plain behavior modification/training. Plants seem to have a lot of hidden secrets that we are still discovering.

    • The scientists did do pretty good studies from what I read. They explain procedure in the full paper which i always read. I am interested how they do their experiments because I find sometimes when they don’t know their subjects fully, they often make errors in judgement. It happened in the award winning bat cloud I blogged on I believe. There was not enough research into bat habitat and bat types in this area. The houses did not get bats to my knowledge. I talked with an expert who confirmed my beliefs.

  16. Wonderful wonderful creatures, bees, aren’t they?!!!
    Exceptional post, Donna!

  17. EcoGrrl says:

    You constantly amaze me with your photography and the words that accompany it. I need a Garden Walk, Garden Talk coffee table book 🙂 By the way, some of the photos come up pixelated funky at the bottoms but when I click on them to see them individually they’re fine. Not sure if that’s on everyone’s OS but on Firefox that’s what I’m seeing. Anyhow, bees make me happy. I used to be terrified of them as a kid but now they give me hope 🙂

    • That happens sometimes and I think it is the time to download that is the problem. I have had it happen myself, and when I try later, they load fine. I too use Firefox, but I think the problem is the cable/internet provider. I was never scared of them, but I might be allergic to them as my brother needs meds if he gets stung.

  18. alesiablogs says:

    WELL your barking up one of my trees with this post. Two things:
    1. I do not like bees. I had one land inside my diet coke in 1990 in Germany and when I took a swig of it –well you can just imagine what happened.! I was bit right on the tongue. I ended up in the ER in shock and could have died!

    2. I do like bees! One of my dear high school friends is one of the leading entomologists in our country. He specializes with bees. If you ever want me to connect you with him, I would be glad to. He is Dr.Jeff Harris. Jeff is now at MS State, but was at LSU for many years. He specializs on Bees.

    • 1. Gosh i answered the wrong comment. Your experience was bad. Sad to hear you had such a bad reaction.
      2. Now how fortunate you are to have a good friend as a bee expert. Thank you, i may take you up on that. I am always asking those I do know and it is nice to have one as an expert in bees. I will look him up and maybe I already read papers by him. Good chance too. Here, I know a bee expert, but she raises bees. She also has a natural landscape and is very knowledgeable on native planting. Her name is Jeri Hens, a very well known bee expert. Maybe Jeff heard of her. I will ask her at her talk in April if she has heard of Jeff. Good chance!

      • alesiablogs says:
        hope this link opens up for you. This is Jeff. It is a new link for his new job. Jeff and I do not talk often but we keep in touch via fb etc but if you say Alesia from high school-he will immediately know who you are talking about. haha WE were all a bunch of straight A nerds back then…Go figure-my brain has gone to the “birds” now….lol no pun intended….
        yeah-that BEE STING was awful!!!!!

        • Thank you. Will search him out and mention you. I too was a straight A student, but a closet nerd. Bad for the rep in high school. Sad that that happened to you, but you have such a great attitude and it does not seem to have affected your writing skills. Always well done.

  19. Fascinating! All these facts (including the details about the AIDS Virus) and stunningly beautiful photographs (as usual ^^).
    Thank you!

    • Thank you. I agree on the AIDS find. That will be a very important discovery if they figure out how to use the venom for a cure. Right now, I believe it is based on individual cells and at the rate the virus multiplies, I bet that might be why they are first working on prevention.

  20. Christy says:

    Great pictures and information! Wouldn’t it “bee” wonderful if bee venom cured AIDS!!!! My favorite bee story is the time my hubby and I were playing golf and a bee flew down my blouse. It stung me in a very sensitive spot and I ran to my hubby pulling up my blouse as I went. I completely forgot about the two young men we were paired with….they had quite a story to tell at the 19th hole!!!!

  21. lucindalines says:

    This post was amazing. You have just made me determined to plant way more flowers to feed the bees.

  22. Roger Brook says:

    I found your site after you own comment on my own blog where my latest post is on the same topic – bees! What a great post you have done – good information and superb photographs, not all blogs combine both these features.
    Its nearly fifty years ago I visited Niagara Falls when I was a student. I had a greyhound ticket for $99 to travel anywhere in UK and Canada over three months. I worked on a fruit farm in Washington State for two months! Best wishes from York UK

    • Thank you. I felt the same about your blog. You have much experience and very good images. My parents were in Niagara Falls more than 50 years ago and I ended up here. That was a real coincidence since I am not from here originally. Best to you too.

  23. Pat says:

    Such an interesting post!

  24. Marguerite says:

    Caffeine enhances cognition and memory? I had no idea. I have always thought of caffeine as a negative substance as it affects me very badly with shaking, and irritability among other things. Interesting to hear it has a positive affect as well.

    • I think with humans it depends on the amount of caffeine how it would affect memory and cognition. I know since it keeps people alert, it makes sense that it can affect us with memory too. It is negative in excess. I am not supposed to have it for my heart and drink quite a bit. But I never had the symptoms that you do. It makes me happy!

  25. You come up with the most amazing information about our natural world. You are a true expert with so much knowledge. Thank you for sharing your treasures.

  26. Jeanette says:

    A Common Pesticide Decreases Foraging Success and Survival in Honey Bees
    Bees can’t find home.
    Drugged Bees Go Missing
    Tobacco amblyopia ….my hypothisis …….. Niacin…..also known as vitamin B3, nicotinic acid…. too much! B vitamins in humans have to be taken as a B complex. B complex very important for health of human optic nerve. Do you think human biochemistry translates to bees? The bees are flying blind?

    One of my favorite sayings is, “like a hummingbird on caffeine”
    Caffeine in pollen :: hummingbirds :: hum! That explains a lot.
    Love reading your posts!

  27. A.M.B. says:

    I had no idea bees love caffeine as much as I do! Very interesting post, Donna, on many levels. Wonderful pictures, too.

  28. What an interesting post! I thought only tobacco had nicotine in it and no idea that any plant had caffeine in it. But I can’t blame the bees for needing a bit of a jolt to get them going in the morning.

  29. janechese says:

    Amazing information and photos!

  30. volkerhoff says:

    Thank you for this wonderful pictures and interesting informations! Bees are so sweet!

  31. Well a girl’s gotta have her morning coffee right?

    I’m allergic to bees, wasps, hornets etc., so while I squeal and run if there’s a wasp around, the bees and I have an understanding – they get to buzz around and collect pollen from all my flowering plants, and in turn I get to tend to those plants without threat.

    I actually think bees are quite lovable – knowing now that they too can experience ‘reduced productivity’ when tired or in need of a caffeine fix, makes them all the more endearing (though I feel kinda bad for them having those pesky scientists testing their responses).

    Anyway, thanks for this very interesting post and love the bee photos!


  32. b-a-g says:

    I’ve noticed that bees are particularly interested in my nicotiana plants. Now I know why. Interesting that they are addicted to the same substances as us (at least coffee in my case). Great post and spectacular photos.

    • Science has yet to find out if they get addicted, but they do return to the same plants. They surmise that the nicotine and caffeine are what is the attraction since it appears a stronger attraction than the plain nectar.

  33. It’s been too long since I visited your wonderful blog, Donna, and I’m so glad I didn’t miss this important posting. As a master gardener, I give presentations on attracting pollinators to the garden, and you put a new spin on the subject, with info. I can use. I love all your pictures, but especially that little brown bee on the monarda. P. x

  34. Sorry I am late getting here, work is insane. It seems that coffee/caffeine is good for bees just like it is good for humans. My brother says we should drink a lot of coffee before “they” decide it’s not good for us again. All these bee facts are fascinating to me and a lot of other readers judging by the number of comments. Great post.

  35. Coffee, cigarettes, and chocolate. Bees have more in common with us than we realize. I guess it makes sense, but I had no idea! Great post!

  36. Brian Comeau says:

    Wow…. Great info. It also kind of made me laugh a little because I just watched Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie this weekend. It’s actually a pretty funny movie.

    • I saw The Bee Movie a while ago. I love those animated films. On Sunday I watched Life of PI. You really must see that movie. It has so many wonderful messages for mankind. The scenery is beautiful and the ending makes you wonder what was the true story. I liked the way it treated religion too. Pi tries all three of the main religions and pulls ways to live his life from each. Also, his father owned a zoo. Now that would have been something I would have liked as a kid.

  37. The things I would never know without your blog!

  38. For the number of comments I see I am not the only one interested. I saw last week a documentary about the state of research about the increasing death rate of bees and I am more concern even, good job with this post.

    • I attended a talk by a local expert and have another to attend in April. It is a concern, even with some bee populations recovering. My post on native bees, this is maybe where they look to for future pollination of some crops, like fruit crops. I don’t know, but it makes sense to me to work that angle.

  39. wonderful pictures and also a great post.

  40. Pingback: Why don’t Bees Teleconference while Building a HIVE? | Jaggi

  41. Fergiemoto says:

    Really informative post! I didn’t know about the caffeine.
    Those photos of the bees are incredible!

  42. Karen says:

    Great photos as always and such an interesting post. Having an apple orchard, I know the importance of bees. We use absolutely no spray on our apples so the bees have a wonderful environment to enjoy.

  43. Reed says:

    Very cool, maybe I’ll start adding Red Bull to my watering…

  44. flora says:

    wow awesome pics ..thanks for sharing!

  45. Lim See Yee says:

    WoW !!Amazing!!!

  46. I have always been a big admirer of bees. Now I learn that the bee is a little bit of a hedonist as well, what with the caffeine, nicotine and electric charges. I wonder if they react differently to good organic coffee plants vs. those grown as GMO’s. In other words, do they also have discriminating taste? 🙂
    Thanks for the information and wonderful photos. Jeanne

  47. You find the most fascinating topics and add your stunning photos………great post Donna.

Comments are closed.