If you’ve lived through the past couple of decades, you’ve probably heard ‘save the bees’ from time to time. This common chant has been ringing loudly in the ears of scientists and naturalists alike since the 80s when scientists recognized that there was a rapid large decline in the bee population. From just April 2014 to April 2018, beekeepers lost a staggering 40% of their colonies.
If bees were to go extinct the results would be catastrophic to our ecosystem. We would see an intense decrease in the number of seeds being set into plants for pollination. Without pollination, many of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables we eat would no longer be available to us. Fewer plants mean fewer animals, which would undeniably disrupt our natural systems and our extensive and balanced food web.
The time to save the bees is now, but how?
Where Are The Bees Going?
Many of us know that honey bees are being threatened by the loss of forage lands and the overuse of pesticides. Unfortunately, there’s another cause for their decline that's invisible to our naked eye.
During the 1980s, scientists discovered that a type of microscopic mite had begun infecting honeybees in the United States. These invasive parasites, called the Varroa mite, have been devastating both wild and domestic bee colonies across the country ever since.
When a Varroa mite enters the honeybee, it weakens their bodies. They then begin to rob and drift between colonies, infecting other bees with Varroa mites in their wake. The mites ultimately weaken the insects enough until they are killed by the parasite.
What's worse, is when the Varro mite infects a honeybee, they also inject a number of viruses into the host. One of the viruses that these mites bring to bee colonies causes their wings to shrivel and weaken, which has been attributed to a large percentage of colony collapses and overall population declines. The rotten cherry on top? These nasty parasites have figured out how to become resistant to common synthetic pesticides.
Mushrooms To The Rescue
In 2018, Paul Stamets, a famous mycologist and enterpeanour, and a group of other scientists and researchers began looking at the highly infectious viruses taking the honeybee population by storm. With their vast knowledge of mushroom and mycelium and evidence of bees foraging on this mycelium, they inferred that perhaps the bees could be deriving some sort of medicinal or nutritional value from fungi.
As many of us know, mushrooms are jam-packed with antiviral properties. They have been used to help us cure cancer, heart disease, and an array of other illnesses. It follows, that maybe the same beneficial properties that we derive from mushrooms can help fortify bee colonies in the face of their collapse.
In Stamet’s study, scientists and researchers took the living mycelium of two species of the wood conk mushroom – the red reishi and amadou – and tested them on a colony of bees. The results? The honeybee colony that was treated with wood conk mushroom mycelium had reduced rates of illness by as much as 45,000 times when compared to the control infected colonies.
These numbers are incredibly promising. Although much of these studies are still purely in the hypothesis stages, there is good evidence to suggest that the antiviral properties of the wood conk mushroom can strengthen immunity to certain viruses in bees.
The Future of Mycelium and Bees
There is a lot more to understand about how mycelium can positively impact the honeybee population, but the results are undeniably exciting.
In an article for The New York Times, Stamets explains that perhaps we could all help save the bees with a combination of sugar water, which is commonly fed to bees, and mycelial extracts. He explained, “I am a mycologist by trade — a mushroom expert — and I hope to create, with some colleagues, a nonprofit organization that could make available this mushroom extract and a bee feeder, similar to a hummingbird feeder, so that all of us can help save bees from our own backyards.”
Just when things seem dismal, mushrooms offer us a light at the end of the tunnel. The power of fungi makes it incredibly hard not to be hopeful for the future.
Interested In How Mushrooms Can Benefit You?
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