Today is not a good time for the honeybees. They have been dying off in vast numbers for several years now. Up to 30-90 percent of the colonies have died off. It’s all over environmental news and there was even an Ellen Page documentary about the issue. Scientists believe there to be a range of causes from, pollution, habitat loss, herbicides, to viruses, that are resulting in the family of symptoms known as “colony collapse disorder.”
There is one virus, for example, called “deformed wing virus” which causes bees to develop disfigured, nonfunctional wings. It can be very horrible and it is passed on to bees by parasitic mites. Scientists haven’t yet been able to develop any antiviral treatments to protect the bees from this deformed wing virus.
There is new hope though, according to a research paper published in the journal Scientific Reports. The study claims that a humble mushroom extract might help alleviate this calamity and could even boost up the bees population worldwide. Specifically, it’s mycelia—cobweb-like fungal membranes found in and on soil—from two species, “tinder fungus” and Red Reishi mushrooms.
A long while back, a Washington mycologist named Paul Stamets noticed that bees seemed drawn to water droplets on mushrooms that were growing on wood chips in his garden. At the time, what he saw remained just that, an observation. But then, one day following the rise of colony collapse disorder, Stamets was reading about the antiviral properties of fungi for humans when it dawned on him – were the bees in his garden benefiting health-wise from the mushroom water?
“I had this waking dream, ‘I think I can save the bees!’” – Stamets
To find the answer to his question, Stamets set up an experiment with colleagues at Washington State University. They fed sugary mushroom broth (“mycelial broth”) to one set of bees and just sugar-water to another set. The set drinking the sugary mushroom broth were found to be fighting off two viruses linked to colony collapse disorder while the group drinking only sugar-water continued to suffer with both viruses.
According to Mother Jones:
“The team measured the virus levels in 50 bees from 30 different field colonies and found the bee colonies that consumed the mycelium extracts saw up to a 79-fold decrease in deformed wing virus after 12 days and up to a 45,000-fold reduction in Lake Sinai virus (another virus linked to colony collapse) compared to the bees that only ate sugar-water.”
Stamets believes that the nutrients in the fungi give the pollinating insects’ immune systems a boost. The media is calling this remedy a vaccine but it is not that because a vaccine is something that will immunize the body against a specific disease. This mushroom broth is only strengthening the health of the insect by supporting the immune system to allow their natural immunity to be strong enough to reduce the viruses.
“Up until this discovery, there were no antivirals reducing viruses in bees. Not only is this the first discovery, but these extracts are incredibly potent.” – Stamets
This is all fantastic news but it is not enough. Erik Tihelka, an insect researcher Hartpury College in the UK, tells Mother Jones in an email that this will only help solve a piece of a much larger problem. He says:
“The health challenges honeybees are facing are multifactorial and interacting. Ranging from loss of the flowering plots for nutrition, use of pesticides in agriculture, a complex of parasites and pathogens, and other stressors.”
The reality is, about one-third of all our crops are entirely dependent on honeybee pollination for survival. Some of these include blueberries, avocados, onions, broccoli, carrots, cantaloupe, and almonds. Almonds, for instance, are 100 percent dependent on honeybees and California farmers are currently having to rent bee colonies from out-of-state to pollinate their trees in spring. If we lose the bees it would be disastrous.
“A loss of bees is like rivets in an airplane. If we lose the bees, it is a critical rivet in an airplane that can lead to catastrophic failure.” – Stamets