You must log in or register to comment.

Wagamaga OP t1_iwb9siy wrote

The lifespans of honey bees living in laboratory environments has dropped about 50% over the last 50 years, hinting at possible causes for the worrisome trends across the beekeeping industry, according to new research by University of Maryland entomologists.

The study published today in the journal Scientific Reports is the first to show an overall decline in honey bee lifespan that is potentially independent of environmental stressors. The findings hint that genetics may be influencing problems like increased colony loss and reduced honey production.

Colony turnover is an accepted factor in the beekeeping business, as bee colonies naturally age and die off. But the higher rates of the past decade mean U.S. beekeepers have to replace more colonies to keep operations viable. In an effort to understand why, researchers have focused on environmental stressors, diseases, parasites, pesticide exposure and nutrition.

When scientists modeled the effect of today’s shorter lifespans independent of environmental factors on beehives, however, the results corresponded with real-world observations of U.S. beekeepers.


Bill_Nihilist t1_iwbscn3 wrote

>“We're isolating bees from the colony life just before they emerge as adults, so whatever is reducing their lifespan is happening before that point ... This introduces the idea of a genetic component"

Or an epigenetic one? Like, for example, fetal alcohol syndrome obviously isn't a genetic difference, it's the developmental consequence of an environmental effect, but it's happening pre-adulthood. The logic presented here for the bees just doesn't hold up. I suspect the poor graduate student's viewpoint was misrepresented. No sensible scientist would jump to a genetic explanation based on these findings.


octopusgardener0 t1_iwc1yzq wrote

I'm a backyard beekeeper, and we're recommended to replace our whole frames every two years because the wax gets full of toxins to the point it starts affecting the bees at that point. On top of that, all package bees are bred in massive farms scattered around the US (the eastern half all comes from one farm in Georgia, don't know if there's any more out there) which have dubious genetics at the best of times, plus varroa mite infection can cause developmental issues if they get into the brood cells before they cap them.

There's a lot of variables that can affect domesticated bees before adulthood, have they done any documentation regarding the states and histories of the hives they took them from?


carlitospig t1_iwccb5k wrote

Yup, my first thought would be checking that Georgian farm too.


GrayMatters50 t1_iwcqtym wrote

West coast & Georgia bees may have instincts that can detect other aggressive colonies in their vicinity. Look what stress does to humans!


Tribe_of_Mexicans t1_iwcac5s wrote

Interesting. But more so, you breed octopi in your backyard and keep bee's, is that for fighting?


Tripwiring t1_iwcf0be wrote

Bee vs Octopus 2: Octwopus


static_moments t1_iwd7xww wrote


( a word I didn’t think I’d be saying when I woke up this morning)


Susan-stoHelit t1_iwcg5hn wrote

No, for breeding. A bee with 8 stingers on its tentacles! And octopus making honey!!!


TooOldToDie81 t1_iwcmmok wrote

When you want that sweet inky flavor, nothing beats octopus honey.


Tr8ze t1_iwcqmyw wrote

Thanks for this. Fascinating. Do you have any recommended resources for folks interested in becoming backyard beekeepers, and for those wondering what to plant in the garden to help out bees?


Aartvaark t1_iwdm143 wrote

Screwing with nature introduces chaos. No matter how carefully bees are 'kept', they're still 'kept', not free to live their natural bee lives.

They adapt to keeping instead of nature. Of course they're going to mutate in favor of their new lifestyle.

I don't understand why this wasn't predicted and avoided.


octopusgardener0 t1_iwdnsx0 wrote

Normally I'd agree with you, but beekeeping is actually heavily weighted in the bee's favor, they're free to leave if they feel the hive is unsafe or not comfortable (which I've had done), or if they feel it's a poor location for resources, and they've been bred through the millenia to produce more than they need. However, honeybees can actually be considered an invasive species to North America, and I recommend if you want to keep bees in your backyard and want a more naturalistic way of doing it, to look for native bee houses or plant flowers that favor native bees, like nightshades, to bring more around.

Fun fact, native bees actually have a 90% pollination rate to the honeybee's 5% rate, but native bees are more solitary so honeybees match their rate through sheer numbers.

As an aside, my bee houses are foundationless as I believe they know what kind of comb they need better than I do, and I refuse to use artificial treatments for the hive, electing for more natural ones, like formic acid (concentrated venom) pads for mites, and ultimately hope I can reach a level where my bees are healthy enough I can go treatmentless and they can keep themselves so I interrupt them less.


Aartvaark t1_iwdq5tb wrote

This is exactly my point. I get why you're defending and I applaud your practices, but as careful as you are, you don't realize how much you're changing their natural lives and lifestyle by providing what you think is beneficial and helpful.

Your end game is honey.

Their end game is survival.

I can live without honey. Maybe the bees should live without us.


FwibbFwibb t1_iwh314e wrote

> I don't understand why this wasn't predicted and avoided.

Apparently this wasn't a problem 50 years ago.


Plebs-_-Placebo t1_iwcl4qw wrote

I've often wondered if the accepted practice of supplementing then with refined sugar water leaves them with a nutrient deficiency of some sort vs what they would get from flower nectar, can never seem to get a fully flushed answer with Google search, personally.


supified t1_iwdggli wrote

You don't have to do straight sugar water though. Vitamin additives are pretty common and you can mix pollen substitute in too


Plebs-_-Placebo t1_iwduen7 wrote

I know about the pollen pucks, but thanks for informing me about the vitamin additives, I'll check it out


ADDeviant-again t1_iwcq0wu wrote

Epigenetics is such a new science.

I agree that it might be more like congenital than strictly genetic, though.


[deleted] t1_iwcdxnp wrote



Konkarilus t1_iwch1sb wrote

Thats not true. Epigenetics is an altered expression and regulation of genes. Genetics is the hard coded genes.


Grammorphone t1_iwbilsq wrote

Sure, it's certainly not neo-nicotinoids..


Alphadice t1_iwbl4r9 wrote

This happened under lab conditions though.

No chance of outside toxins.


redcoat777 t1_iwbmp47 wrote

Bees can not fully be raised in lab conditions. pollen sub is not a full replacement for natural pollen, and with the 3-5 mile forage range it is not practical to say we can control their wild food sources.


GrayMatters50 t1_iwcsg7f wrote

I know a lady florist that built huge attached greenhouses with bee hive access .. her bees fly in & collect pollen from acanthus to zucchini. That seemed to be successful. The plants & honey sold was used to set up more hives & greenhouses. Delicious honey.


redcoat777 t1_iwdd1sh wrote

That works to an extent, any time i have seen it attempted seriously ended up with a lot of bees “stuck” inside the top corner of the greenhouse


GrayMatters50 t1_iwe0vqp wrote

Of course I didnt go inside so I dont know. But the plants , flowers were magnificent & the Honey tasted great. She took videos of the hives & they were active.


ayleidanthropologist t1_iwcf77d wrote

You can raise them on sugar water though right?


redcoat777 t1_iwck2ig wrote

Once they are adult they can survive off pure sugar water, but they need high quality protein when they are larvea. Their carbs come from nectar (honey), and their fats and proteins come from pollen. We have artificial pollen substitutes, but it isnt as good as the real stuff.


GrayMatters50 t1_iwcstqw wrote

Then combining hives & greenhouses could be a good thing. It would certainly protect hives from attacks.


redcoat777 t1_iwddaj0 wrote

Yes, though it would be very hard to have enough consistent food supplies for a single hive within one greenhouse, and greenhouses seem to mess up their intenal navigation


GrayMatters50 t1_iwe1h13 wrote

I know she was working with NY Botanical Garden & a couple of top notch Universities. There's birds living in a conservatory.


redcoat777 t1_iwe9je9 wrote

Then i dare say they have reduced the losses to an acceptable level. it generally surprises people how many bees die every day in a healthy colony.


Tuts36 t1_iwcjuis wrote

Yes, and it's probably as good for bees nutritionally as a lifetime of fast food would be for us.


kevshea t1_iwcj666 wrote

And our water sources are increasingly polluted as well.


SweetBrea t1_iwc0z4u wrote

>This happened under lab conditions though.

Forcing bees to live in an entirely unnatural setting couldn't possibly have any negative impact, right?


DonUdo t1_iwc19cn wrote

Apparently it didn't 50 years ago


SweetBrea t1_iwc1mye wrote

You don't think a negative impact can take generations to really start to be observable to us? You don't think generations in a lab without access to the environment that builds an immune system can eventually have large effects on the population as a whole?


DonUdo t1_iwc29ip wrote

Why would you think they breed them exclusively in the lab instead of taking princesses from outside population?


SweetBrea t1_iwc4z03 wrote

Because they literally claim they are "independent of environmental stressors". How could they be sure it isn't environmental if they were just repeatedly harvesting them from, ya know, the environment?


Kangie t1_iwc84qe wrote

> [environmental] Stressors are environmental factors that cause stress. They include biotic factors such as food availability, the presence of predators, infection with pathogenic organisms or interactions with conspecifics, as well as abiotic factors such as temperature, water availability and toxicants.


nuck_forte_dame t1_iwc3tsl wrote

It's comparing apples to apples.

They aren't comparing lifespan in a lab today with natural 50 years ago.

They are comparing to lifespan in labs 50 years ago.


ohhmichael t1_iwc9dul wrote

And if the lab results 50 years ago and today are 25% affected by environmental conditions, then the results cannot be concluded as being independent of environmental conditions...


Nearatree t1_iwcajs1 wrote

No see, they moved the labs beyond the environment.


SweetBrea t1_iwc5rs7 wrote

I am saying the methods they are using to compare the apples to apples may be what is actually affecting the apples... or bees if you will.


corporat t1_iwcolci wrote

> independent of environmental stressors

They haven't shown that they've eliminated microplastics from water as an environmental stressor. I'm sure there are many similar examples that occur inside a laboratory setting


GrayMatters50 t1_iwcq7ms wrote

Is there any correlation to invasions by other aggressive species, like Southern killer bees or Giant Asian Hornets who feed Honey bees to their young?


nanoatzin t1_iwfvtkt wrote

Is it possible that air quality could be a significant factor?

Carbon dioxide has increased from around 250ppm to over 400ppm during the industrial revolution, with most of that increase occurring since 1940.

Carbon dioxide becomes toxic for humans above around 750ppm, however we have a fairly efficient respiratory system with a great deal of reserve capacity.

Insects breathe through tracheae and spiracles that run directly through the body seem less efficient. For example, insects grew to the size of birds during the Carboniferous period when oxygen was 35% of air and not the current 21%. Air quality seems to drive natural selection for insect size.

It seems that an increase in carbon dioxide would induce evolutionary pressure selecting for insects with smaller size because of respiratory efficiency limits.


Digital-Bridges t1_iwdy495 wrote

I'm the author of this article. A.M.A. Though I might be too late to the reddit game on this one.


AcrobaticApricot t1_iwellxq wrote

do you think it’s possible that the bees’ lifespan has been negatively impacted by nutrient loss? if plants literally have fewer nutrients it seems like it could have lots of surprising and unfortunate downstream effects that are difficult to detect.


Digital-Bridges t1_iweo9bl wrote

Certainly. Access to adequate nutrition is one of the major drivers of colony loss, along with pesticides and parasites/viruses. We address these possibilities in the study but this work is the first to suggest a plausible genetic source, which the media seems to have focused on. While I can't say if the article you linked is affecting bees, if it's true I don't see why not. Bee lifespans are short no matter what and they can only eat so much during that time. Sounds like a great research project for a new grad student!


sillypicture t1_iwezctl wrote

Are you also a bee doctor/nutritionist? Can you fix them/our planet?



Digital-Bridges t1_iwg7nu5 wrote

I do not study nutrition directly. My major focus is epidemiology. I have a background in genetics though and have just accepted a bioinformatics position.

Bee researchers are working very closely with beekeepers, farmers, and ecologists so we can improve food security and support the livelihoods of so many who work in agriculture. Progress is slow but certainly moving!


headunplugged t1_iwetmy3 wrote

I heard this on NPR, they where reporting a group had to go back 50 years to oldest usable sample of bull seman. Dairy cows where breed for so long to maximize milk output and breeders completely neglected healthier traits like stronger hips and immune systems; this creates an issue producing unhealthy milk cows, I think thorough-bread dogs having issues is also a similar case of this.

My question is does breeding bees involve selecting desirable traits, or there really isn't any control on breeding like that?


sillypicture t1_iwf0104 wrote

Interesting study. Either they have somehow evolved to live shorter lives (periodic/fortnightly events?) Or there are persistent stressors, which would be interesting to study persistence of, by continuing their breeding cycle in the lab (idk if that's possible or practical).


start3ch t1_iwffne6 wrote

Is 50 years really long enough to allow insects to evolve noticably?


sillypicture t1_iwg3y1b wrote

Doesn't it depend more on breeding ftequenct and less on absolute time period?


Macheeks t1_iweoc45 wrote

Do you think viruses could be playing a role? Like deformed wing virus for example


stayingstillwhenlost t1_iwffk72 wrote

I’m curious if Apis mellifera has had a loss in healthy gut bacteria like other species? Do we know of any bacterial symbiotic relationships?


Digital-Bridges t1_iwg8gvu wrote

There are definitely Apis-specific bacteria. Microbiome research is still in its infancy but will be one of the "next big things" in bee research. I don't think we can say that Honey bees have lost good bacteria on any global scale as of yet. Most of the current research suggests that gut populations can change in various situations, like starvation or disease exposure. We have yet to make a solid link to how shifts in the microbiome can affect whole colonies, though.


voltMoe t1_iweyaiq wrote

Electromagnetic fields And pesticides are the 2 main culprits in my mind. Confirm/ deny?


Mubly t1_iwcue0b wrote

This is really interesting, I work with bees for a living and am currently getting some tests run on local (US) and foreign (Yucatán jungle honey) because bee death is such a huge problem in the states.

I have a feeling it’s because the mass use of pesticides has had such an effect on generations of bees leading to mass death. Whereas bees in the Yucatán jungle of Mexico have extremely long lives in comparison. Granted this is not a laboratory experiment and is instead a real world one.


akil01 t1_iwd8n6r wrote

I heard a theory of bees needing mushrooms for the ecosystem. It has something to do with cleaning themselves


b-radly t1_iwd9rqz wrote

There are many factors that would be different between the Yucatán and the US. It would be impossible to say the cause of life expectancy differences with only place names as variables. What data will the tests provide? Thanks


Mubly t1_iwdiai4 wrote

Specifically I'm looking at the amount of various pesticides found in honey samples in the PPB amount. The data provided will allow me to really take a deep dive into pesticide presence in the hive and bee death. I chose the Yucatan because there is (supposedly) close to no commercial ag or pesticide use since the bees forage on untamed land. Their life is extremely long in comparison.

You're right in saying there are many different variables that could lead to bee death, and honestly I think pesticide presence is a moderate contributor. In most bee farms I have been to in the U.S. the beekeepers generally lease out bees to use as pollinators for industrial ag, and by the time they return, the vast majority have died and the beekeeper has to purchase more bees.

I think its combination of unsatisfactory living conditions for the bees, and diet mixed with pesticide presence. Most beekeepers feed their bees sugar water so they can produce more honey, thus making more $$.


TheGlassCat t1_iwcvr4o wrote

Maybe we should try breeding them with other species of bees from, say... Africa. What could go wrong?


dreadpirate_metalart t1_iwcuirg wrote

This should worry anyone that likes to eat food. Since bees are the major pollinators of what we eat.


RawSauruS t1_iwce9vz wrote

And that's without even mentioning rhe escalating Asian hornet plague.


AutoModerator t1_iwb9ohh wrote

Welcome to r/science! This is a heavily moderated subreddit in order to keep the discussion on science. However, we recognize that many people want to discuss how they feel the research relates to their own personal lives, so to give people a space to do that, personal anecdotes are allowed as responses to this comment. Any anecdotal comments elsewhere in the discussion will be removed and our normal comment rules apply to all other comments.

I am a bot, and this action was performed automatically. Please contact the moderators of this subreddit if you have any questions or concerns.


FriarNurgle t1_iwec5sl wrote

Maybe they’re just sad


BlueWarstar t1_iwo8le9 wrote

Yeah it’s from all the chemicals that gets put into the air and the pesticides started all over. What do you expect when we keep poisoning them more and more?


EzemezE t1_iwtncax wrote

it's microflora related


Toy-Jesus t1_iwd300w wrote

I remember the theory that cell phone towers are the cause of bees dying. Probably something to it as they’d be exposed to it in the wild and captivity


Otherwise-Way-1176 t1_iweedh5 wrote

You think they keep cell phone towers in the lab, next to the bees!?

Tons of things have been developed in the last 50 years. Video games. Brexit. QAnon. How do you know cell phone towers are the cause of anything in particular.


Toy-Jesus t1_iwfl04l wrote

If your cellphone has signal in the lab then the bees are exposed.


vw_bugg t1_iwcayov wrote

Its almost as if over time, an animal species with no access to their natural environment, diet, and sources of nessacary items are just not as healthy. Perhaps there are things about the bees we just don't understand. If humans were kept and bred in a lab, and fed purified crap generation to generation, they would have problems too. Humans have all sorts of things living in and on our body helping us to function normally. Is it not the same for bees?


gkibbe t1_iwcclr0 wrote

Nothing about modern beekeeping is natural, we've been selectively breeding an invasive species for domestication for literally thousands of years. The result is modern honeybee


Some_Sheepherder6746 t1_iwco62g wrote

So maybe there's just no evolutionary pressure to have a longer life span.


gkibbe t1_iwddxxf wrote

With Varroa Mites as an evolutionary pressure, I imagine it would push towards shorter lifespans in workers and queens who lay more eggs. That way you are replacing the mite ridden population quicker after each seasonal flare up. Same thing with pesticides, your gonna be choosing for queens who can replace the population quickly, but that would put pressure on food supplies in winter, so shorter lifespans would probably evolve in tandem with stronger laying queens.


--VoidHawk-- t1_iwep92k wrote

Interesting line of thinking for a gradual, indirect consequence that fits the observations.


Some_Sheepherder6746 t1_iwett8w wrote

Good point. As we industrialize more, even our bees are affected by the pressure of working in a chemical-filled environment


vw_bugg t1_iwd0w3m wrote

And they have access to.... things outside the lab.


FogellMcLovin77 t1_iwchwch wrote

It’s almost as if you didn’t even bother reading a short section of the study. You just chose ignorance


vw_bugg t1_iwd12vv wrote

The bees are raised solely in labs over the last 50 years. They have no access to nature. They have no idea why they dont live longer. I read it. And i dont see anything agaisnt my point.


FogellMcLovin77 t1_iwfpkpo wrote

Your point has no substance, why would there be an argument against it?


Tuts36 t1_iwcm26r wrote

I can't help but be reminded of what the US has done to domesticated ferrets. They have a fraction of the lifespan of their ancestors - and have a nearly 100% chance of developing adrenal cancer.

Humans as custodians of animal genetic lines are a poor substitute for natural selection, unless the alternative is extinction.


[deleted] t1_iwblfhe wrote



Abject-Ad-1550 t1_iwbptn2 wrote

Seems bad. Bees are living half as long in as clean an environment as reasonably possible.


RODAMI t1_iwbsfsz wrote

Maybe bees don’t like clean environments but I don’t have a phd


CrackersII t1_iwbuqkd wrote

more likely that we can't create an environment clean enough to be safe for them


SweetBrea t1_iwc1haf wrote

More likely it is too clean and as such they cannot develop well rounded immune systems.


mrlazyboy t1_iwbwu35 wrote

Or the clean environment doesn’t contain something in nature that helps the bees maintain a healthy lifestyle


trouble37 t1_iwcjgo3 wrote

That doesnt explain why the lifespan of bees in a "clean environment" is half what is was in that same "clean environment" 50 years ago. Thats the entire point. Bees lifespan in labs is half of what it was in labs decades back. They arent comparing lab lifespans to bees in natural environments.


mrlazyboy t1_iwcrdy3 wrote

Are you sure the clean environments are exactly the same


trouble37 t1_iwd1prh wrote

So basically you are insinuating that all the labs today with bees are completely botching the parameters in the lab and all the labs from decades past had everything right. Because that would have to be the case for your hypothesis to be correct.

Do you really think that sounds feasible?

On top of that, lab parameters are the first thing they would have checked before even releasing the results. So even if it was a single lab instead of pretty much all of them, it STILL would be highly unlikely, and as it stands is basically 100 percent not the answer when accounting for multiple labs from past and present.


zebrahdh t1_iwc5lkt wrote

Gosh are the humans being born and raised in a laboratory also not living their full life expectancy?


Fr00stee t1_iwca231 wrote

they are comparing bee life spans in labs from 50 years ago to bee life spans now


[deleted] t1_iwbmhdt wrote



[deleted] t1_iwbn4f4 wrote



[deleted] t1_iwbnh4m wrote



[deleted] t1_iwbntol wrote



[deleted] t1_iwbozxr wrote



[deleted] t1_iwbz72j wrote