Honey bees, particularly the commercial ones, have a strange condition where some worker bees simply go away from the colony, never to return. The condition is called Colony Collapse Disorder, and now researchers have found that pests, pesticides and pathogens are associated with the condition.
Researchers from University of Illinois, who conducted the study, have also found that feeding bees with honey instead of high-corn fructose syrup can help them stay with the colony, and here is the reason why:
Commercial honey bees are raised to be used for pollinating crops. And the hives of the bees are sprayed with a pesticide that prevents a kind of mite from attacking it. Now, bees are particularly bad at detoxifying these chemicals, having just about half the genes that help other insects break down the chemicals. Researchers found that many insects use cytochrome P450 monooxygenases to breakdown chemicals and foreign bodies.
Plus, there are chemicals that activate these genes, and one such chemical is the p-coumaric acid found in pollen grains.
"Bees feed on hundreds of different types of nectar and pollen, and are potentially exposed to thousands of different types of phytochemicals, yet they only have one-third to one-half the inventory of enzymes that break down these toxins compared to other species," May Berenbaum, professor of entomology from University of Illinois and lead author of the study, said in a news release.
To lower costs of taking care of honey bees, farmers feed them on high-fructose corn syrup instead of honey, which makes the bees more vulnerable to the dangerous chemicals. The wild honey bees, on the other hand, feed mainly on honey and so are better able to activate the genes needed to break the chemicals. High-fructose corn syrup and honey provide almost the same kind of nutrition, but honey has other important chemicals such as p-coumaric acid.
"If I were a beekeeper, I would at least try to give them some honey year-round because if you look at the evolutionary history of Apis mellifera, this species did not evolve with high fructose corn syrup. It is clear that honey bees are highly adapted to consuming honey as part of their diet," Berenbaum added.
The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Previous research conducted on the chemical neonicotinoids had found that it causes population decline in bumble bee colonies.
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