Feeding responses of free-flying honeybees to secondary compounds mimicking floral nectars

Natarajan Singaravelan, Gidi Nee'man, Moshe Inbar, Ido Izhaki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The role of secondary compounds (SC) in deterring herbivores and pathogens from vegetative parts of plants is well established, whereas their role in plant reproductive organs such as floral nectar is unclear. The present study aimed to reveal the response of free-flying honeybees to naturally occurring concentrations of four SC in floral nectar. We selected nicotine, anabasine, caffeine, and amygdalin, all of which are found in nectar of various plants. In repeated paired-choice experiments, we offered 20% sucrose solution as control along with test solutions of 20% sucrose with various concentrations of the above SC. Except for anabasine, naturally occurring concentrations of SC did not have a deterring effect. Furthermore, low concentrations of nicotine and caffeine elicited a significant feeding preference. SC can, therefore, be regarded as postingestive stimulants to pollinators, indicating that the psychoactive alkaloids in nectar may be a part of their mutualistic reward. Further studies are needed to test our hypothesis that psychoactive alkaloids in nectar impose dependence or addiction effects on pollinators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2791-2804
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements—This work was supported by a grant from Israel Science Foundation (ISF 600/03) and University of Haifa. We thank three anonymous reviewers for constructive criticisms and comments on earlier version of the manuscript.


  • Attraction
  • Deterrence
  • Honeybees
  • Naturally occurring concentrations
  • Nectar
  • Secondary compounds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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