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Could A Mushroom Save The Honeybee?

Could A Mushroom Save The Honeybee?

From article by Ken Christensen, August 17, 2015

Honeybees need a healthy diet of pollen, nectar and water. But at a bee laboratory in Eastern Washington, Steve Sheppard fills their feeding tubes with murky brown liquid from the forest.

His bees are getting a healthy dose of mushroom juice.

“If this does what we hope, it will be truly revolutionary,” said Sheppard, who heads the Department of Entomology at Washington State University. “Beekeepers are running out of options.”

Commercial honeybees, which pollinate $15 billion worth of crops in the United States annually, have teetered on the brink of collapse for nearly a decade. A third of all bee colonies have died each year since 2006, on average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientists say the mysterious phenomenon, known as colony collapse disorder, may be the result of at least 60 environmental factors that combine to cripple honeybees — including pesticides, disease, malnutrition, loss of habitat and climate change.

WATCH: Could The Mushroom Save The Honeybee?

Like a pancake ‘feeding on you’
Beekeepers, however, say the honeybee’s single greatest threat is a virus-carrying parasite called the varroa mite. If left untreated, varroa mites typically destroy a colony of honeybees in less than two years.

Sheppard has spent decades breeding western honeybees to better tolerate the mite and its viruses. But he hasn’t had much success, he said.

Varroa mites have devastated U.S. beehives since the late 1980s, when they arrived here from Asia. In 1996, half of colonies east of the Mississippi River died due to mite infestations.

The reddish-brown pests, which are no bigger than the head of a pin, invade colonies and multiply rapidly. They hide among bee larvae developing in the honeycomb, feed on infant bee blood and lay several eggs each.

“It would be like having something the size of pancake feeding on you,” Sheppard said.

Varroa mites feed on honeybees and transmit several viruses to their hosts.

Varroa mites feed on honeybees and transmit several viruses to their hosts. -photo Ken Christensen, EarthFix/KCTS 9

Honeybees that emerge from the infected hives typically carry illnesses, like a virus that results in deformed wings that prevent bees from flying.

If beekeepers don’t intervene, the varroa mite can destroy a colony in less than two years. Meanwhile, the pest reproduces so rapidly it builds resistance to chemical pesticides more quickly than solutions can be invented, Sheppard said.

That’s why he decided to try an unconventional approach last year, after local mushroom expert Paul Stamets called him with an idea to help arm the honeybee in its fight against the mite.

Learning the way of the bee

“We’ve gone to the moon, we’ve gone to Mars, but we don’t know the way of the bee?” asked Stamets, who owns the medicinal mushroom company Fungi Perfecti near Olympia, Washington.

WATCH: Paul Stamets give a TED Talk:

The self-taught mycologist said he noticed a relationship between honeybees and mushrooms when he observed bees sipping on sugar-rich fungal roots growing in his backyard.

“I looked down, and they were sucking on my mycelium,” he said.

Now he thinks he knows why.

In recent years, his research has shown that rare fungi found in the old-growth forests of Western Washington can help fight other viruses, including tuberculosis, smallpox and bird flu. He wondered if the honeybee would see similar health benefits from wood-rotting mushrooms.

The red-belted polypore mushroom is among five species of fungi that have been shown to improve the honeybee's immune system.

The red-belted polypore mushroom is among five species of fungi that have been shown to improve the honeybee’s immune system. -photo Katja Schulz, Flickr Commons

“Bees have immune systems, just like we do,” he said. “These mushrooms are like miniature pharmaceutical factories.”

Stamets and Sheppard are feeding liquid extracts of those forest mushrooms to mite-infected honeybees. Initial findings suggest that five species of the wood-rotting fungi can reduce the honeybees’ viruses and increase their lifespans.

In addition, the scientists are trying to fight honeybee viruses by taking aim at the varroa mite itself. Insect-killing fungi have been used as an alternative to synthetic chemical pesticides for years, and previous studies show that one type of entomopathogenic fungus can weaken varroa mites in beehives.

Killing parasites without harming bees

Paul Stamets thinks his version of the fungus will be more effective. So far, the results of the experiments in Sheppard’s lab look promising.

“The product seems to be killing mites without harming bees,” Sheppard said.

Paul Stamets cultures mycelium at his laboratory near Olympia, Washington.

Paul Stamets cultures mycelium at his laboratory near Olympia, Washington.  -photo Ken Christensen, EarthFix/KCTS 9

This fall, the scientists plan to expand both experiments by partnering with commercial beekeepers like Eric Olson, who runs the largest commercial beekeeping operation in Washington.

Olson said two-thirds of his beehives died five years ago because of a varroa mite infestation. After several years successfully controlling the pest, he arrived this year in California for almond pollination season and nearly half of his bees had died during the winter.

He spent $770,000 to buy replacement hives, he said.

“I was lucky that I had the cash and the connections to recover from that,” he said.

Olson recently donated about $50,000 to Sheppard’s department to help find a solution to the mite. Looking at the bees in one of his hives, he said, “I’m really concerned about whether these little girls will survive.”

The Bees Need Our Help on Earth Day

The Bees Need Our Help on Earth Day

honey_bee-t3From the Editor, Elizabeth:  On Earth Day, the bees visited me three times, imploring me to publish reminders about their call for our help. It’s time to stop the reckless use of pesticides.  Roundup and other harmful pesticides have already been banned across the globe.  North Americans, Children of Mother Earth, please remember the bees in your Earth Day ceremonies and end this scourge on our farms.
Below is the Jacob Devaney’s article in for Earth Day reminding us that Monsanto is waking us all up:
FIVE REASONS TO BE GRATEFUL FOR MONSANTO| ‪#‎OceanNation‬ ‪#‎BeeLove‬ ‪#‎BeeSustain‬
We live in a world of contrasting elements and sometimes
a direct experience of opposites can help us grow and evolve.

For example, loss can teach us about connection, grief can give us an appreciation for joy, a long cold winter will make us celebrate the coming spring. Last fall I was working on an article about GMO, and I really enjoyed researching the topic. I learned some important things about issues that seemed unrelated on the surface but are actually quite interconnected and essential for all of us to recognize. Monsanto, so often despised on social networks and demonized – yet it may be providing an opportunity for a much needed dialogue, in effect enlightening us through demonstrating the contrast of opposites.

It is fair enough to say that Monsanto opposes the beliefs of those who care about their right to know what is in their food, by pushing back against GMO labeling laws. This giant corporation also stands in contrast to the belief systems of those who believe in heirloom seeds, organic and bio-dynamic agriculture. The increase in pesticides used on GMO crops end up pouring into our waterways, which places Monsanto at odds with environmental groups and those concerned with water quality. Others find themselves in contradiction with this multinational bio-chemical corporation because the bees that pollinate flowers and vegetables are threatened by these pesticides. If opposites attract, Monsanto has done wonders to attract and unite many people who share a deep love for life on the planet.

Sustainability is defined, in ecology as ”…how biological systems remain diverse and productive. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. In more general terms, sustainability is the endurance of systems and processes.”


The definition of greenwashing is “A form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly. Evidence that an organization is greenwashing often comes from pointing out the spending differences: when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being ‘green’ (that is, operating with consideration for the environment), than is actually spent on environmentally sound practices.

Greenwashing efforts can range from changing the name or label of a product to evoke the natural environment on a product that contains harmful chemicals to multimillion dollar advertising campaigns portraying highly polluting energy companies as eco-friendly.”


Using the logic of opposites, we can be grateful that Monsanto has illuminated issues that we should all be concerned about. Here are 5 worth considering:

1. Recognizing the damage of pesticides in our water:

The growth of GMO crops eventually produce pesticide-resistant insects which increases the amount of pesticides needed to obtain the same results year after year. The increased use of these pesticides runs off into creeks, streams, watersheds, and our drinking water.

The Pesticide Induced Diseases Database provides access to a wide array of scientific studies on the dangerous health effects of pesticides. Glyphosate and Roundup, the herbicides which GE crops depend upon, are implicated in numerous adverse health impacts in human beings. Roundup formulations are of particular concern because the ‘inactive/inert’ ingredients in the product have been shown to enhance the toxicity of glyphosate. One particular ‘inactive’ ingredient, polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, a surfactant used to adhere and allow glyphosate to penetrate into plant leaves, was shown to be capable of killing human cells, particularly embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells, according to a study published in Chemical Research and Toxicology.
– Beyond Pesticides

2. Teaching us about the history of chemical warfare:

Agent Orange was one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. It was manufactured for the U.S. Department of Defense primarily by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical. The British were the first to employ herbicides and defoliants to destroy the crops, bushes, and trees of communist insurgents in Malaya during the Malayan Emergency.

We now have a revolving door between high-level Monsanto lobbyists and politicians, who legislate food safety and production with business interests placed above the environment and public health.

3. Understanding the interconnected web of life including honey bees


Who woulda’ thought that the ecosystem was so interconnected and interdependent that all these vegetables would be dependent on honey bees?

• Apples • Onions • Avocados • Carrots • Mangos • Lemons • Limes • Honeydew • Cantaloupe • Zucchini • Summer squash • Eggplant • Cucumbers • Celery • Green onions • Cauliflower • Leeks • Bok choy • Kale • Broccoli • Broccoli rabe • Mustard greens

More information here.

By targeting the insects that ruin crops, pesticides have inadvertently  hurt our bees to the extent that we could have wide spread bee colony collapse if we don’t do something about it.

4. Questioning commercial agriculture and considering where our food comes from

Our population has grown exponentially, and what may have been a solution 50 years ago may be a problem today. Consider all the fossil fuels used to ship food across the planet. What if more food was grown locally, if local laws encouraged community gardens and food forests? It is important to question the direction in which things are going. Some of the problems we currently face are forcing us to reconsider what large-scale agriculture should look like. Asking the tough questions always leads to solutions, and there are always safer, more effective ways to move forward.

5. Inspiring us to grow our own heirloom seeds and source our food locally

Because of the industry push-back against local and state ballot-initiatives to have GMO food accurately labeled, one of the best ways to know what you are getting is to grow your own or support local farmers. Supporting local farmers and growing your own also decreases the amount of fossil fuels that are used in transport and provides you with the freshest, most nutritious food possible. Heirloom seeds are available at places like Organic-farmingNative Seed Search and with them comes a long lineage of cultural heritage and stories from the people who have preserved them. This helps us to have a deeper understanding of our place within the larger web of life around us, and our role in history to make this place better for future generations. This Culture Collective article has a list of great resources about the importance of heirloom seeds.

When we were children we all learned to walk by falling down… lots! We learned the importance of honesty when we told a fib and lost the trust of a friend. We learned how precious love is when we lost a lover. We are wired to embrace opposites in this world of contrast, sometimes there are painful lessons but the quicker we adapt and learn, the quicker we grow and heal. Biotech gave us many solutions as our population swelled, but it is riddled with problems that we must now openly address. Just as training wheels may have once helped us ride a bike, we would find them limiting if we were to keep them on after we knew how to ride. Permaculture has many organic solutions that help to regenerate the land while using organic, and we need to consider transiting commercial agriculture into safer ways of producing healthy food. Perhaps we may one day thank Monsanto for causing us to wake up, to organize, and push for safer alternatives!