A Bee’s Buzz

Where do bees get their buzz?  No, I’m not referring to the sound their vibrating wings make when they fly.  In fact, I’m talking about a much more colloquial “buzz” – the one you get from caffeine when you drink a cup of coffee.  It turns out bees also enjoy the little boost in energy they reap from coffee plants when they drink the nectar, which contains low levels of caffeine that the pollinators obtain much satisfaction from.


Plants originally evolved caffeine as a defense against herbivory because it can be toxic at high levels.  However, at low levels, it encourages honeybees to return to the plant – thus increasing the plant’s pollination efficacy – because the honeybees’ learning and memory abilities are enhanced, and therefore the honeybee reaps a benefit from the plant.  So what began as a deterrent for herbivores is now a triple whammy for the plant, which now 1) attracts more bees because the bee enjoys the caffeine buzz, 2) ensures the bee will return because its learning and memory are enhanced due to the caffeine, and 3) repels herbivores at the same time!

“Bees on caffeine buzz pollinate better.” http://www.thenews.com.pk/article-91262-Bees-on-caffeine-buzz-pollinate-better

“Plants give bees a caffeine buzz.” http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/scicurious-brain/2013/03/11/plants-give-bees-a-caffeine-buzz/



When the cicadapocalypse comes, citizens run from their homes and seek refuge in pretty much any place not overrun by whizzing, clicking, peeing monster swarms of insects.

plain language- simplify

Just kidding, no need to fear.  Although quite a sight to behold, these insects are harmless.  While you may already know that cicadas are unique insects because they hide away underground and emerge as adults every 13 or 17 years, depending on the species, you may not have heard some of the more zany tidbits about them.  Here are some interesting facts about cicadas:

  • Cicadas emerge in cycles of years that are prime numbers because predators won’t as easily guess when they’ll be out in full force.
  • Cicadas employ a strategy called “predator satiation:” by emerging in broods numbering in the millions, cicadas ensure that after predators have eaten a few hundred, they’ll be too stuffed to consume them all!
  • Cicadas are “semelparous:”  they mate, then die.  The adults only live for 2 to 3 weeks when they come out every 17 years.
  • Cicadas are tasty!  Everything out there eats them-squirrels, turkeys, dogs, even fish.  And humans eat them!  Just broil them up and eat them like fried shrimp… or you could always just eat cicada ice cream:

Cicada ice cream

  • If you walk under a forest covered in cicadas, bring an umbrella.  Cicadas eat by sucking up tree fluids, which means that they eventually need to pee it out.  It has even been dubbed “cicada rain.”
  • Every 221 years, 17 and 13 year broods of cicadas co-emerge.  I know that’s a sight I’d certainly like to see, but unfortunately it won’t happen until 2115.

cicadas color

However, the most interesting thing about cicadas may be the way they fight bacteria!  A fairly new scientific field called biomaterials in which humans use the properties of animal’s physical compositions has been growing steadily with advances in technology, and it just so happens that cicadas have a very special mechanism in which they virtually eliminate bacterial infections on their wings.

Cicada wings have tiny spikes called “nanopillars” on their wings that kill bacterial cells on contact via physical structure alone.  Watch the video below to see how it works:

The exciting thing about structural defenses like these is that they usually aren’t too difficult to construct, given today’s technology and engineering abilities.  If we could engineer this type of material, it would be too small to feel, and thus could be applied to nearly every surface that could conceivably attract and spread bacteria-doorknobs, toilets, countertops, hospital beds, etc.  So if you are lucky enough to experience a cicadapocalpyse, don’t be too frustrated by the loud, peeing, overwhelmingly numerous little buggers.  After all, following their lead on disease fighting may lead to the virtual elimination of bacterial infections in the future.


“Cicadapocalypse 2013: what you need to know.” http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/cicadapocalypse-2013-what-you-need-to-know

“The most interesting 17 year cicada facts.” http://www.cicadamania.com/cicadas/the-most-interesting-17-year-cicada-facts/

“Cicada.” http://www.thaibugs.com/?page_id=117

“Cicadas’ antibacterial trick may help humans.” http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/cicadas-antibacterial-trick-may-help-humans