Researchers at Stanford University in California have discovered that honeybees or Apis mellifera can detect the nectar’s chemical composition and choose not to “eat” nectar with a significant amount of bacteria.

According to a report on the Stanford website, “Ashley Good, a recent honors graduate in biology, led the study with Tadashi Fukami, a biology professor. They extracted three types of bacteria and yeast from the guts of honeybees found on the Stanford campus. After culturing the bacteria and yeast, the researchers put them into synthetic nectar. Then they placed the synthetic nectar, saturated with either bacteria or yeast, in fake flowers and watched what happened.

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“The bees did not seem to care one way or another if the nectar contained yeast. But, to the surprise of Good and Fukami, they avoided bacteria-laden nectar. The bacteria had altered the chemical composition of the nectar and made it undesirable to the bees.

“’If you get rancid food, you’re not going to eat it. You’re going to throw it away,’ Good said. The bees avoided the bacteria-laden nectar as if it were rancid. Though researchers aren’t sure if bees can taste nectar, the insects somehow sensed its chemical composition.”

The studies finding may provide some indication about factors that may keep honeybees both happy and healthy.  The official report is available online at PLOS.