The Buzz: Bees in the News

Doesn’t it feel like there has been a lot of news this year? Like, an overload of news? Like, more news than humanly possible?! We’re with you. But if your sanity-saving solution has been to tune out the chatter by adopting a semi-catatonic state every time you crack open your computer, there are few bits of bee related news you may have missed! Here’s what’s been going on in the world of bee research the past few months…     

1. The optimal human diet has a sweet spot for honey.

This is pretty cool. Researchers began studying one of the oldest hunter-gatherer tribes on the planet, the Hadza, in an attempt to determine the optimal human diet. The Hadza people have been hunting and foraging in northern Tanzania for tens of thousands of years, living healthy, relatively long lives.

And they are big fans of raw honey.  

“On days when their hunts come up short, [the Hadza] head over to beehives and collect honey, which is one of their favorite foods, accounting for at least 15 percent of the calories in their diet …[It is] not uncommon for hunter-gatherers to eat sugar, which they consume primarily in the form of honey.” (New York Times)

Interestingly, the Hadza consume about as many daily calories as the average North American, yet their diets have one notable difference—no refined, processed foods. They mainly consume a little meat, sweet potato-like tubers, and lots of honey throughout the day. Even more fascinating, they suffer from no metabolic diseases, like obesity or diabetes, and have a relatively long life expectancy. It’s not just a testament to adopting a less sedentary lifestyle, but also to ditching those ultra-processed foods for good. (And let’s not discount the power of good honey!)     

2. Roundup weakens bees’ microbiomes—and immunity.   

This is less cool. Not only does glyphosate—the active herbicide ingredient in Roundup—screw with bees' internal navigation abilities, but it devastates their immune systems, too. It turns out, glyphosate targets a specific enzyme in weeds that also exists in certain microorganisms, including many of those that dwell in the bee microbiome. When a bee is exposed to glyphosate, the chemical deactivates these enzymes, throwing the bee's entire bacterial balance way out of whack. Since the microbiome is so intricately linked with immunity, this unfortunately makes bees significantly more susceptible to disease.    

While glyphosate is steadily being banned throughout the EU, North American still hasn’t caught up (although Canada does have some restrictions).  

3. Mushroom vaccines may be the key to protecting bees from serious viruses.

As climate change progresses, mite populations are flourishing, putting hives at even more serious risk of infestation. One mite in particular, the varroa mite, transmits a virus which causes a severe birth defect known as ‘deformed wing virus’. This virus devastatingly hinders a bee’s ability to fly and can decimate colonies.

But mushrooms may hold the answer. Mycelia from “tinder fungus” and red reishi mushrooms may hold the key to a type of bee vaccine. According to research, these fungi have powerful antiviral properties that give a significant boost to bee immunity (which gets weakened from pesticide and herbicide consumption) and can protect against the deformities and viruses these mites spread.

(Side note: reishi mushroom is a powerful ally for human immune systems, too. A little reishi tea with a few spritzes of Propolis Spray make for an unstoppable elixir!)

3. Bees are anything but mindless drones.  

There is this assumption that all insects, because they’re so tiny, are not so smart or complex. Even bees have been accused of being drone-like—but that is totally not the case. Bees are surprisingly complex creatures.

Research has shown that bees can have pessimistic or optimistic moods. They can be taught to learn new things. They have the ability to plan for the future. They can count up to 4. Bees can even understand the concept of ‘zero’, which is a challenging concept that even human children struggle with.

Bees are utterly fascinating, and we continue to learn more and more about them as crucial bee research continues to unfold. If you’d like to support bee research, which is helping to understand (and hopefully prevent) a widespread bee collapse, you can donate to the UC Davis Honey Bee Research Facility or the Canadian Bee Research Fund, two leading North American bee research institutions.