11 September 2019

Getting Some Buzz

Video on bee virus is going viral

Getting Some Buzz

Bee health researcher Ethel Villalobos (PEPS) is featured in a recent episode of the video series How Close Are We, which looks at possible solutions to some of the world’s major problems and questions. It asks, “How Close Are We to solving some of humanity’s biggest challenges? We go in search of experts, dive into the facts, and comb through the research to find out just how close we are to changing the world.” 

Executive producer Anna Campbell, who was interested in Ethel’s work, contacted her to speak about just that for the episode “How Close Are We to Saving the Bees?” Filmed by local videographer Jonathan Keao, Ethel discusses Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious phenomenon in which whole bee colonies disappear for reasons that are still unclear. Ethel explains that beekeepers lose 40 percent or more of their bee colonies each year during the winter, and, as she vividly describes it, discovering what is going wrong is like “trying to do an autopsy without a body.” It is known, however, that it has something to do with the “four P’s”: parasites, pathogens, pesticides, and poor nutrition. 

An important parasite Ethel describes is the varroa mite, on which she’s an expert. It’s a vector of Deformed wing virus (DWV), which leads to shriveled, unusable wings that make foraging and other essential activities difficult, if not impossible.

One way to counteract Colony Collapse Disorder, Ethel says, is to enrich the bees’ diet with supplements that can give them “superhero strength,” so they will be better able to fight off parasites and pathogens. A vitamin-rich fungal extract from polypore mushrooms has exciting potential, lowering the rate of DWV by 79 percent. Formic acid and menthol have also been used to deter the mites, and bee queens that are especially fastidious about hive cleanliness—“neurotic,” as Ethel says—can also help to reduce the incidence of disease. Most important, however, is good nutrition, and this can be boosted by growing a variety of crops and plants for the bees to forage in, not huge swaths of monocrops.

Since bees provide an estimated $15 billion in services to agriculture, it pays to listen to bee experts about what to do to keep them healthy. And people are listening: the video has gotten almost 100,000 views in just two weeks!