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Only One Animal Can Subsist Solely on Coffee Beans

(Photo: L. Shyamal)

But I can offer this little bug close competition. Only my appreciation for half-and-half prevents me from claiming the title as well.

The coffee berry borer beetle eats coffee beans. It doesn't have a lot of competition because most animals, including other insects, find the caffeine in coffee beans too toxic to consume directly. And now scientists know why. Ed Yong writes for National Geographic that researchers found that the coffee berry borer beetle's unique digestive tract can detoxify caffeine:

Javier Ceja-Navarro from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has discovered its secret: it has bacteria in its guts that can detoxify caffeine.

When he fed the beetles with coffee beans and analysed their faeces for traces of caffeine, he couldn’t find any. None. Something in their gut had completely destroyed the would-be poison. Bacteria seemed like the obvious candidates, so Ceja-Navarro fed the beetles with antibiotics. This time, when they ate coffee beans, their poo was laden with caffeine. And when they got a chance to breed, they utterly failed. Most of their eggs and larvae died outright, and none of the survivors made it to adulthood. Without their microbes, they couldn’t handle their caffeine.

-via Marilyn Terrell


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