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Updated 10:35 AM EDT, Thu, Apr 18, 2019

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Nicotine and Caffeine Can Help Extend Bees' Life, Study Says

Young bees

Young bees foraging for nectar.

A new study discovered that floral nectar with a bouquet of natural chemicals may actually help fight parasite infection in bumblebees.

A team of scientists looked at hundreds of eastern bumblebees (Bombus impatiens) and their intestinal parasite, Crithidia bombi. These parasites are known to shorten the lives of infected bees and lead to problems in the colony, the University of Massachusetts Amherst reported.

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To get the finding, researchers examined 539 eastern bumblebees suffering from the parasitic infection and allowed them to feed on one of eight natural nectar chemicals or control nectar. After seven days, the parasitic load was measure.

The bees involved in the study were taken from a number of colonies to avoid a colony-specific response. New England biologists tested eight nectar compounds on North American bumblebees (Bombus impatiens) that had been infected in the lab with an intestinal parasite called Crithidia bombi.

Four of the eight were effective against Crithidia, which is spread by bee feces. The parasite lowers winter survival rates and reproductive success.

The eight chemicals studied were nicotine and anabasine found in nectar of flowers in the tobacco family; gallic acid from buckwheat nectar; amygdalin from almond nectar; caffeine from coffee and citrus nectar; aucubin and catalpol from turtlehead flowers, and thymol from basswood tree nectar.

The findings suggest growers that depend on pollinators should consider planting gardens that have these natural remedies. Researchers aren't sure if the bees are aware of the chemicals' benefits and consume them on purpose.

The findings appeared in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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