One Species of Beetle Is a Caffeine Fiend and It’s Eating All Your Damn Coffee

One Species of Beetle Is a Caffeine Fiend and It’s Eating All Your Damn Coffee

By Zachary Siegel 07/17/15

Think your espresso habit is out of control? One tiny insect will put your caffeine consumption to shame.

Image: 
coffee berry borer
Cute, but destructive. Photo via

Meet the coffee berry borer, a species of beetle with a caffeine habit so obscene it puts the ex-drinker who double-fists quad-shots of espresso all day long to shame.

Known to consume what should be toxic amounts of coffee bean, the coffee berry borer can shrink a crop yield by up to 80%. It’s a destructive force. Relative to its body mass, this pest consumes the equivalent of a human downing 500 shots of espresso in one day.

How such a species continues to exist in nature has researchers scratching their heads and coffee farmers wielding their pitchforks. But a new study in Nature Communications sought to unravel the mystery of how this beetle can ingest such monstrous amounts of caffeine.

The study appears to suggest the answer lies deep within the coffee berry borer's belly. An uncommon system of microbes were found thriving in the beetle’s gut. It’s believed these microbes are responsible for the unique ability to breakdown all of that caffeine.

Eoin Brodie, the study’s principal investigator said, “We knew gut bacteria were key to the beetle’s survival strategy and its ecology in general. This is a clear example of how micro-organisms, with their rapid adaptive capabilities, can enable higher organisms to colonize new environments.”

Now that these microbes have been identified, the next step is to use the beetle’s own secret weapon against itself. If these microbes can be manipulated then it may be possible to develop a way of combating infestations which have engulfed field upon fields of coffee.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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