Four Unexpected Jobs For Bees

beeBees hold important jobs pollinating our crops and flowers and making yummy honey. But here’s some unexpected ways we’ve put bees to use:

1) Hunting down land mines: Nikola Kezic, a honeybee expert at Zagreb University in Croatia has been training bees to associate the smell of TNT with food by lacing their nectar with the explosive, Gawker reports. The bees haven’t been field-tested yet, but the researchers envision using cameras that sense heat to track the bees across de-mined minefields and check if they really have been made safe. Other researchers have been attempting to train bees to sniff out illegal drugs or other explosives.

2) Studying cocaine addiction: Scientists in Australia painted cocaine on the backs of bees to study how the drug changed their behavior. Like humans, the bees go through withdrawal when the drug is taken away. Bees aren’t humans, but researchers hope that by studying the insects they can gain some clues as to what’s going on at the genetic level and gain insight into human addiction as well.

3) As a weapon: There are many cases where armies took advantage of insects’ stings. Romans, those experts of war, for example, would catapult beehives at their enemies. And during the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong was known to hurl the nests of hornets and wasps (not bees, admittedly, but same effect) into enemy outposts.

4) In food: Daniella Martin at Girl Meets Bug says that adult bees can be roasted and ground into a “delicious” flour. And bee larvae are especially tasty. “Think about it, all they eat is royal jelly, pollen, and honey!” Martin writes. She says that the larvae taste like mushroomy bacon when they’re sauteed in butter.

Image courtesy of flickr user Paul Stein

Caffeine Buzz Helps Bees Be Better Pollinators

bee

Plants don’t make caffeine to help you get a morning buzz. In high concentrations, the chemical is a bitter deterrent against munching herbivores. But in smaller doses, according to a paper published today by¬†Science, caffeine helps bees to remember a flower’s scent.

“Caffeine in nectar is likely to improve the bee’s foraging prowess while providing the plant with a more faithful pollinator,” the study’s lead author, Geraldine Wright of Newcastle University in the U.K., said in a statement.

It’s probably not a surprise to find caffeine in the nectar of species from the Coffea genus, but Citrus species also can produce caffeine, including in the nectar. In that sugary substance, the chemical is produced in a low enough dose that bees can’t taste it, but it does affect them, Wright’s group found. Using trained bees, the researchers showed that the insects were better able to learn a floral scent when it was laced with caffeine than when it only contained sucrose. And the bees remembered it for up to three days later.

This is a pretty good trick for a flower — drugging its client to return again and again, ensuring that the plant gets pollinated.

It’s not the first time that scientists have experimented with drugs on bees, though. A few years ago scientists in Australia gave cocaine to bees, but that time they had to paint the drug on the back of the insects.

 

Image Credit: Courtesy of Geraldine Wright and Science