From egg to buzzing pollinator, a photographer captures the secret life of bees and it’s nothing short of mesmerizing.
When National Geographic asked photographer Anand Varma to shoot photos of bees for a story, he did what any photographer wouldn’t do: He started keeping bees in his backyard to better acquaint himself with the creatures. Kind of like a photographer’s version of method acting.
But by the looks of things, Varma became pretty taken with his apian muses, going beyond the call of duty to try and really figure out the mysteries of the hive. And in particular, what’s going on with Varroa destructor, the bee-decimating parasitic mite with a name like a Harry Potter spell.
We are reliant on bees for our food – they pollinate one-third of our crops – but between pesticides, disease, habitat loss and the biggest threat of all, according to Varma, the Varroa mite – they are disappearing at an alarming rate.
With this in mind, Varma teamed up with the bee people from UC Davis to figure out a way to film life in the hive, and what they’ve come up with is a miraculous glimpse of the bees’ first 21 days. From egg to squiggling larvae to bona fide buzzing bees; mites included.
In Varma's TED talk about his work, he discusses the tricky situation the mites present, namely that prevention involves treating the hives with chemicals, which is no good for anybody or any bee. Scientists know that some bees are resistant to the mites, so they've been working on breeding those bees to create a class of mite-resistant ones.
But as happens when scientists start playing around with genetics, they’ve inadvertently bred other traits out of the mite-resistant ones, like gentleness and the ability to store honey. Oops. So now they are working on integrating mite-resistant bees with other hive bees to hopefully arrive with mite-resistant wild bees that remember how to be bees. The idea is a bit daunting, to be honest. Messing with Mother Nature often comes with unintended consequences, but Varma doesn't seem that concerned. And in the end, it’s the need to understand bees that has brought his beautiful work about. Speaking about the experimental bee program, he says:
"It makes it sound like we’re manipulating and exploiting bees, but the truth is we’ve been doing that for thousands of years. We took this wild creature and put it inside of a box, practically domesticating it, and originally that was so that we could harvest their honey. But eventually we started losing our wild pollinators and there are many places now where those wild pollinators can no longer meet the pollination demands of our agriculture," he says. "So these managed bees have become an integral part of our food system. So when people talk about saving bees, my interpretation of that is we need to save our relationship with bees."
"And in order to design new solutions, we have to understand the basic biology of bees. And understand the effects of stressors that we sometimes can not see," he adds. "In other words, we have to understand bees up close."
And now we can, just like this: