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J Chem Ecol. 2007 Dec;33(12):2209-17. Epub 2007 Nov 16.

Honeybee (Apis cerana) foraging responses to the toxic honey of Tripterygium hypoglaucum (Celastraceae): changing threshold of nectar acceptability.

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  • 1Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming 650223, People's Republic of China.


To investigate honeybee foraging responses to toxic nectar, honey was collected from Apis cerana colonies in the Yaoan county of Yunnan Province, China, during June, when flowers of Tripterygium hypoglaucum were the main nectar source available. Pollen analysis confirmed the origin of the honey, and high-performance liquid chromatography showed the prominent component triptolide to be present at a concentration of 0.61 mug/g +/- 0.11 SD. In cage tests that used young adult worker bees, significantly more of those provided with a diet of T. hypoglaucum honey mixed with sugar powder (1:1) died within 6 d (68.3%) compared to control groups provided with normal honey mixed with sugar powder (15.8%). Honeybees were trained to visit feeders that contained honey of T. hypoglaucum (toxic honey) as the test group and honey of Vicia sativa or Elsholtzia ciliata as control groups (all honeys diluted 1:3 with water). Bees preferred the feeders with normal honey to those with toxic honey, as shown by significantly higher visiting frequencies and longer imbibition times. However, when the feeder of normal honey was removed, leaving only honey of T. hypoglaucum, the foraging bees returned to the toxic honey after a few seconds of hesitation, and both visiting frequency and imbibition time increased to values previously recorded for normal honey. Toxic honey thus became acceptable to the bees in the absence of other nectar sources.

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