Honeybees Self-Medicate With Anti-Fungal Resins When Under Threat

mattprice/CC BY 2.0

News today of yet more evidence linking neonicotinoid pesticides to Colony Collapse Disorder in bees was notable not just because it showed that insecticides harm bees. What is really interesting about this, and previous studies on honeybee exposure to neonicotinoids, is that the chemicals don't appear to just kill bees overnight, but rather they disrupt natural behaviors like navigation, queen rearing and the ability to ward off parasites.

We already knew that bees have a remarkably sophisticated social system and a robust set of defenses against numerous threats (check out this remarkable video, for example, on how honeybees clean house). But we're learning just how remarkable with every new study.

Jennifer Welsh reported over at Huffington Post recently on new research showing that bees self-medicate against fungal threats by collecting plant resins and wax to create propolis, a glue-like substance with strong anti-fungal properties:

The researchers found that when facing a fungal threat the bees brought in 45 percent more of the waxy creation to line their hives, and physically removed fungally-infected larvae from their area. Interestingly, that means they have a better grasp of the germ theory of disease than humans did before the 19th century — things that come into contact with microbes tend to cause further infection, the researchers noted.

"The colony is willing to expend the energy and effort of its worker bees to collect these resins," Simone-Finstrom said in a statement. "So, clearly this behavior has evolved because the benefit to the colony exceeds the cost."

As Welsh notes, the study may have implications for recommended beekeeping methodologies. After all, beekeepers have tended to favor hive designs and bee strains that produce less propolis, and often remove the substance when it is made, because it sticks hive parts together and makes the bees tough to work with.

Any time we post on alternative methods like tough love beekeeping or top-bar hives, one of the common criticisms is that regular intervention is needed to stop bees gluing up their hives.

Maybe this is just one more reminder that the bees may just know what they are doing, at least better than we do.

Tags: Agriculture | Bees | Colony Collapse Disorder | Insects

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