Plenty of people wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to hold a sick bee, but kudos to the bee-savior in this video, who poured honey into his palm and let a languid bee slowly lap it up until it was refreshed enough to fly away.
It’s unclear what is wrong with this particular bee—the video’s narrator writes that he found the little guy “lying on its back and motionless on the path.”
But one thing’s for certain: bees have had a rough time of it recently.
There’s been an uptick of reported cases of “zombie bees,” which may sound like the name of a summer blockbuster, but it’s actually a condition caused by tiny, parasitic flies that inhabit bee bodies, causing the infected bees to abandon their hives at night and lurch dramatically through the air before dying.
San Francisco State University biologist John Hafernik discovered the condition in 2008, and has set up a website, ZomBee Watch, where citizen scientists can report sightings. Nearly 80 percent of the hives in San Francisco are infected, according to the Seattle Times.
The problem extends across several states. Earlier this week, Mark Hohn, an amateur beekeeper in Seattle, discovered the first confirmed cases of zombie bees in his backyard hive. Zombie bees have also been reported Oklahoma and South Dakota.
One problem is that the parasitic fly, called the “scuttle fly,” is common across the United States, so the number of zombie bee cases could be vastly underreported. Hafernik is relying on citizen scientists to sign up for ZomBee Watch, to help him track how widespread zombie bees have become.
The parasitic fly, which injects eggs in a foraging bee’s stomach—gross!—spells more trouble for honeybees, whose populations have plummeted in recent years due to “colony collapse disorder,” which began affecting U.S. hives in 2006.
Several recent studies from scientists in Italy, Britain, and the U.S. suggest that the cause of colony collapse disorder is a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, which are sprayed on corn. According to the Pesticide Action Network, in 2010 at least 143 million acres were planted with seeds that had been treated with neonicotinoids.
But getting back to the man with a bee in his hand.
Aside from being a heart-warming story of environmental goodwill, perhaps the bee man provides a fitting parable for the kind of cautious care we need to provide for our honeybee populations.
According to a U.N. report, of the 100 crops that provide 90 percent of the world’s food, 71 are pollinated by bees: bees are integral to preserving agricultural lands and ensuring food availability. What could be a more fitting reason for protecting our buzzing, fuzzy bees?
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Alison Fairbrother is the director of the nonpartisan Public Trust Project, which investigates and reports on misrepresentations of science by corporations and government. She has written for the Washington Monthly, the Washington Spectator, Grist, and Politics Daily, among others. Alison is based in Washington, D.C. @adfairbrother | TakePart.com