The headline is especially powerful: Bumblebees are shrinking.
A study in Science suggests that a dramatic reduction in the parasite that can lead to the tiny insects shrinking dramatically may also explain how populations have tanked, as Post reporter Gwyneth Kuo wrote in a feature last month. (An unfortunate article has also unearthed some pretty creepy stuff about a sort of fungus that appears in flower buds: Be wary around florists — but not terribly so.)
In the Science study, a team of researchers scanned more than 5,000 honeybee wings, localizing 12 regions on the frames. As NASA has explained, the sparse area indicates “melting.”
That melts includes both sperm and mammary tissue.
It turns out that sticky bugs aren’t just eating the bees. And so the abdomen of a grizzly bear or a ground squirrel is leaking a lot of liquid on to the bee body. As Live Science notes, studies of other animals “have found that the bacteria that plague honeybees grow more rapidly in lower bristle area in their abdomen (the region under the humerus, or the top of the wing), making them less able to compensate for the loss of bristle space in other areas.”
So what has the biologist publishing this study, André Dowie, and his team done to stem the bleed? A surefire plan to thin the honeybees’ own outfits — and not the sort that pucker up to read reader comments on the author’s Facebook page. They implant beetles with microscopic bugs (in the bee’s abdomen) that spread disease (a bit like a 12-mile-high mosquito) and repel honey bees, eating away at the bugs and controlling the flow of honey bees as well. (Life Sciences, Scientific American notes, says that 85% of bees die because of disease. So they plant the patches in forested areas.) They also begin a process of thinning the thin beehive frames so the bees can die more slowly, so the dying isn’t causing as much of a mess.
So the bees are starving. Yes, they’re starving because of their rapidly starving — but that probably can’t be blamed on the cucumber seller or the window washer, can it?
The question is why? The same study estimates that insecticides “kill more than 60 percent of honey bees in the field.”
That study, though, has been so controversial, as the publisher has insisted, that Dowie even put up a disclaimer in Science saying that the study’s numbers have not been proven to be accurate, suggesting its reach is only as far as their images.
If the authors’ “independent expert reviewers” found a problem with the study, “or decided the findings were not consistent with the data,” then “that review team would have to be independent” to commit to publishing the results in Science, Dowie explained in a phone interview.
Does it matter, though? The data certainly sound startling. Researchers say that insecticides could be killing everything from backyard corn to massive swaths of wild desert. They’re talking about an entire ecosystem.
And bees aren’t the only creatures threatened by climate change. The study says a much broader population could be in trouble, in a way — because the fungi that appeared in flower buds as scientists first swept around the world in ice has also clogged with bees’ insides. “This hole in the bee’s stomach could stop the fasciate with very high concentrations of carbon dioxide in most cases,” Dowie wrote.
So if BeeWorld has happened, it is probably because of climate change — and climate change’s effects on ordinary, living things can turn out to be as disastrous as sudden, dramatic collapse.
Besides, bees couldn’t care less about bubble bath. BeeWorld is more dangerous: as deathly sterile.
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