Doctors Find 4 Sweat Bees in Woman’s Eyes, Living Off of Her Tears

Sweat bees are a common nuisance in the summertime, but they’re much less frightening than, say, hornets or wasps. Still, you wouldn’t want to have a sweat bee in your body. Yet, a Taiwanese woman experienced just that. Doctors discovered 4 of the winged creatures living in the woman’s eye, where they were feeding off of her salty tears.

The woman, 29, couldn’t figure out what had caused her eye to swell shut. She was overcome with pain and her eyes seemed to water constantly. She figured she had some sort of infection, but she didn’t understand why it kept getting worse and worse.

The patient, known only as “He,” sought treatment at Fooyin University Hospital in Taiwan, where doctors told her she didn’t have an infection at all. As Hung Chi-ting, the hospital’s head of ophthalmology, peered into He’s eyes with a microscope, he saw tiny legs wiggling from one of her eye sockets.

From there, he proceeded to remove 4 intact sweat bees, all alive, 1 by 1 from He’s eyelid.

Hung Chi-ting explained during a press conference that the tiny bees had been craving salt, which they found in He’s tears. The insects set up shop under the woman’s eyelid, in what the doctor called a “world first.”

“I saw something that looked like insect legs, so I pulled them out under a microscope slowly, and 1 at a time without damaging their bodies.”

How in the World Did This Happen?

So, how did 4 sweat bees end up turning He’s eye into a buffet? She believes she acquired the uninvited visitors while participating in the Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day.

He said:

“I was visiting and tidying a relative’s grave with my family. I was squatting down and pulling out weeds.”

[Note to self: Just let the damn weeds grow next time.]

At some point during the day, He felt something get in her eye. She splashed a bit of water in her eye, believing it to be a little harmless dirt. But when her eyes started to swell up later that night and she began to experience a stinging pain that made her eyes water up, she wrongly assumed she was coming down with some sort of infection.

It turns out that sweat bees tend to nest near graves and in the mountains.

Fortunately, He kept herself from rubbing her eyes too much, which could have caused blindness. The woman was found to be suffering from cellulitis and severe corneal erosion because of the bees. [2]

Hung said:

“Thankfully she came to the hospital early, otherwise I might have had to take her eyeball out to save her life.”

Despite several hours of excruciating pain and increasing worry, He will not have any lasting repercussions from the buzzing parasites.

Matan Shelomi, an associate professor of entomology at National Taiwan University, said: [1]

“The woman will be fine. The bees will be fine. This is not something that people need to concern themselves with. I don’t expect we’ll ever see this again.”

Sources:

[1] The Washington Post

[2] CNN

Scientists Create First-Ever Edible Honey Bee Vaccine to Protect Bees from Disease

If the world were to lose honey bees, it would be a crisis for humanity unlike any we have ever seen. The food supply would shrink drastically, leaving large swaths of the Earth’s population to starve. Unfortunately, bees face numerous threats, and bacterial diseases are among the direst of these threats (along with neonicotinoid pesticides). Researchers in Finland say they’ve created the first-ever vaccine for insects, and it could help protect struggling honey bee populations.

In the researchers’ crosshairs is a disease called American foulbrood (AFB), one of the biggest threats to honey bees. The infectious disease can devastate hives and spread at warp speed. The disease works by bacteria feeding on larvae and then generating more spores that assist the malady in spreading further.

Read: Honey Bee Decimation Blamed on Pesticides, Parasites, and More

News of the vaccine – still in the testing phase – has sparked both excitement and skepticism among beekeepers. Three years ago, the same researchers were recognized in Entomology Today for discovering the “key to bee vaccination.”

Disease can spread rapidly and quickly become devastating to honey bee hives because insects’ immune systems lack the antibodies necessary for fighting diseases. Scientists Dalial Freitak and Heli Salmela of the University of Helsinki say they solved that conundrum after Salmela’s study of a protein called vitellogenin seemed to complement her own work, in which she found insects that were exposed to bacteria were able to pass on an elevated immune response to their offspring.

A University of Helsinki press release states:

“When the queen bee eats something with pathogens in it, the pathogen signature molecules are bound by vitellogenin. Vitellogenin then carries these signature molecules into the queen’s eggs, where they work as inducers for future immune responses.”

In a news release, Freitak said:

“Now we’ve discovered the mechanism to show that you can actually vaccinate them. You can transfer a signal from one generation to another.”

The vaccine, dubbed PrimeBEE by the Finnish team, can be delivered to the queen via a sugar patty. Another option is for beekeepers to simply order a queen that has already been vaccinated. Right now, PrimeBee has neither a price nor a date for when the vaccine will become commercially available.

AFB is currently “a death sentence” for honey bees, according to Toni Burnham, president of the D.C. Beekeepers Alliance in Washington. She explained that “if a colony is diagnosed with AFB – regardless of the level of the infestation – it burns. Every bit of it burns; the bees are killed and the woodenware burns, and it’s gone.”

AFB is such a looming threat to bees that Burnham’s group never recommends buying used hives and other equipment.

She said:

“They have pulled 100-year-old samples out of storage and have been able to reinoculate honey bee hives with American foulbrood spores.”

PrimeBEE could be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fighting the diseases that threaten bees.

Freitak said in a statement:

“We hope we can also develop a vaccine against other infections, such as European foulbrood and fungal diseases. We have already started initial tests. The plan is to be able to vaccinate against any microbe.”

Read: List of Foods We Will Lose if We Don’t Save the Bees

Honey bees contribute about $20 billion to U.S. crop production, as they pollinate a variety of foods, including apples, melons, blueberries, and cherries. In fact, blueberries and cherries are “90% dependent on honey bee pollination,” according to the American Beekeeping Foundation. [2]

The foundation added:

“One crop, almonds, depends entirely on the honey bee for pollination at bloom time.”

Sources:

[1] NPR

[2] Fox News

Scientists Link Honeybee Deaths to Glyphosate in New Study

Glyphosate, the highly controversial weed-killing chemical found in the popular Roundup herbicide, is harming honeybee populations around the world, a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin say glyphosate is making honeybees more susceptible to infection and death.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The authors write that bees who came in contact with glyphosate had lower levels of the healthy gut bacteria needed to digest food and prevent illness and were more likely to die from pathogens. When researchers introduced honeybees to the pathogen Serratia marcescens, approximately half survived. However, only 1/10 of bees affected by glyphosate survived.

Read: FDA Finds Glyphosate Herbicide in U.S. Honey

In a statement, Erick Motta, a graduate student who led the research, said:

“We need better guidelines for glyphosate use, especially regarding bee exposure, because right now the guidelines assume bees are not harmed by the herbicide. Our study shows that’s not true.”

The authors also called on those using glyphosate-containing products, including farmers and amateur gardeners, to stop applying glyphosate to plants that bees use to gather nectar. [2]

Though there are other factors that contribute to honeybee deaths, glyphosate bears some of the responsibility and the findings are especially concerning because the chemical is so widely used.

Glyphosate kills weeds by attacking an enzyme in a special pathway found in plants and some microorganisms. However, it was not believed to be harmful to animals and insects, including honeybees.

For the study, researchers collected honeybees with established gut microbiota and dosed the winged insects with glyphosate at levels equal to those found on crops. The bees were labeled to allow the researchers to track them. Then, they repeated the experiments on bees from a different hive.

Read: Landmark Report – Glyphosate is Most Heavily Used Herbicide in History

When the team examined DNA samples taken from the bees’ guts, they found that after 3 days glyphosate had decimated good bacteria in the honeybees’ digestive system – including a pathogen considered to be the ‘core bee gut species,’ Snodgrassella alvi.

Honeybees with healthy gut microbes were able to fight off Snodgrassella alvi. But the bees lacking in healthy gut microbes were more likely to die when they came in contact, the researchers said.

Dr. Nancy Moran, Professor of Integrative Biology at The University of Texas at Austin College of Natural Sciences who co-lead the study, explained:

“Studies in humans, bees, and other animals have shown that the gut microbiome is a stable community that resists infection by opportunistic invaders. So if you disrupt the normal, stable community, you are more susceptible to this invasion of pathogens.”

Dr. Dave Goulson, professor of biology at the University of Sussex, while praising the study’s methodology, questioned how bees could ever become exposed to glyphosate in the real world.

“Glyphosate kills plants, so contaminated flowers will soon be dead and of no interest to bees. Nonetheless, glyphosate is sometimes found in bee food stores, at concentrations similar to those used in this study.”

The results, he said, suggest that researchers and environmentalists have good reason to be concerned about the impact of glyphosate on the tiny yellow and black pollinators.

“It now seems that we have to add glyphosate to the list of problems that they face. This study is further evidence that the landscape-scale application of large quantities of pesticides has negative consequences that are often hard to predict.”

He noted that bees face numerous threats to their health, “including exposure to cocktails of insecticides and fungicides, impacts of pathogens, and effects of poor nutrition.”

Sources:

[1] USA Today

[2] Newsweek

Bees Get Hooked on Pesticides Like People Get Hooked on Cigarettes

A recent study reveals some startling news about the effects some pesticides have on bees, and it’s not good news. According to researchers from Imperial College London and Queen Mary University of London, bees get addicted to some pesticides in the same way that humans get addicted to nicotine. [1]

Over time, bees start to enjoy the taste of pesticide-laced food, eventually eating more and more in what the authors of the study describe as addictive behavior.

The team specifically looked at neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides linked to bee deaths and overall poor health. Research shows that when bumblebees are exposed to neonicotinoids, the pollinators’ growth rate significantly drops, and the production of new queens declines by 85% compared with colonies not exposed to the chemicals. Neonicotinoids are banned in the European Union (EU).

Neonicotinoids are still widely used in the United States, but some large retailers have stopped selling the pesticides or have vowed to phase out their use.

For the study, the team tracked 10 bumblebee colonies over 10 days. Each colony was provided 3 types of feeders:

  • 1 containing no pesticide
  • 1 containing a low amount of pesticide
  • 1 containing a higher amount of the product

The researchers counted how many times the bees visited each feeder and the amount of food they consumed. In addition, they changed the position of the identical feeders halfway through the experiment, to see which one the bees preferred.

At first, the bees chose the pesticide-free feeders. But eventually, they started eating from the laced feeders more and more and sought out the “clean” and low-dose pesticide feeders less. [1]

Researcher Andres Arce said: [2]

“We also saw that when the position of the feeders was changed, the bees responded and would still visit the feeders containing the pesticides – which indicates that they could detect the pesticide and would track it.”

In a statement, Richard Gill, lead researcher on the study and a lecturer at Imperial College London, explained that pesticides work in the bodies of bumblebees similarly to the way nicotine works in the human body. [1]

“Interestingly, neonicotinoids target nerve receptors in insects that are similar to receptors targeted by nicotine in mammals. Our findings that bumblebees acquire a taste for neonicotinoids ticks certain symptoms of addictive behavior, which is intriguing given the addictive properties of nicotine on humans, although more research is needed to determine this in bees.”

Actually, this information isn’t so new.

WATCH: Director of Pesticide Action Network Explains How Neonicotinoids Work

Unlike past studies that only offered food containing pesticides to bees, Gill and his colleagues wanted to test bees’ reaction to neonicotinoids in the wild, where they would be exposed to both clean food and contaminated food.

Gill explained: [2]

“We originally wanted to know if the bees could detect the presence of this class of pesticide and, if given enough time, learn to avoid food containing the pesticide.

In mammals, for example, we know that nicotine is an addictive property, so we could make that inference that maybe these neonicotinoids – considering they act on similar targets – may have similar addictive properties.

And our behavioral experiments suggest that that might be the case.”

The study is published in the Britsh journal The Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Sources:

[1] Newsweek

[2] ABC News

Neonics Pesticide Replacement Found to be Equally Dangerous to Bees

A chemical touted as a safer replacement for bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics) has similar harmful effects, researchers in the U.K. have discovered.

Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides intended to protect crops from pests by blocking receptors in the insects’ brains, paralyzing and killing them. Even small doses of neonics can cause bees to struggle with navigation, hunting for food, reproduction, and their ability to form new colonies.

As a result of neonics’ effects on pollinators, the European Union (EU) banned the outdoor use of 5 neonicotinoid products in April 2018. Canada began phasing them out on August 15, 2018. However, in the United States, neonics are still widely used.

Due to the development of neonicotinoid resistance among some insects, scientists in recent years have turned to sulfoximine as a replacement. This group of insecticides act on the same class receptors in the insect brain but can safely avoid the enzymes that make some insects resistant to neonics.

Sulfoximine has been approved by regulatory bodies in China, Canada, Australia, and the U.K. [2]

Recently, scientists studied the effects of sulfoxaflor – a member of the sulfoximine class of chemicals – on bumblebee colonies and found that it reduced the number of worker bees in the colony and, eventually, the number of offspring the colony produced.

Study author Harry Siviter, from Royal Holloway, University of London, said:

“Our results show that sulfoxaflor can have a negative impact on the reproductive output of bumblebee colonies under certain conditions.”

Sulfoximine was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Obama Administration. Initially, the rules governing the pesticide’s use were fairly loose, but a court decision vacated the initial approval in favor of more stringent restrictions to protect bees.

It cannot be sprayed on plants that attract bees until they have finished blooming, it is illegal to spray the insecticide on a select number of blooming plants, and it can’t be sprayed on any plants grown for seed.

For the study, researchers exposed bumblebee colonies to doses of sulfoximine similar to those they would be exposed to after the insecticide is applied to crops, and compared their health to those of colonies that were not exposed.

It was clear that the bees had suffered as a result of sulfoximine exposure when individuals from colonies exposed as larvae started to emerge as adults, but fewer worker bees emerged.

Furthermore, 9 weeks after the bumblebees were exposed, exposed colonies produced 54% fewer new queens and males – the only bees that reproduce. The authors wrote in the report that this suggests sulfoximine could significantly impact successful reproduction among bumblebee colonies. [1]

Study author Dr. Ellouise Leadbeater of Royal Holloway, University of London, said:

“Our study highlights that stressors that do not directly kill bees can still have damaging effects further down the line, because the health of the colony depends on the health of its workforce.” [2]

More importantly, the study shows that replacing one toxic insecticide with another is not the answer to protecting crops from pests.

The study is published in the journal Nature.

Sources:

[1] Science Magazine

[2] EcoWatch