Waking Up in Summer

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Is the alarm ringing? Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Hold on. Is this a dream? Buzz. Buzzzzzz…

One by one, they fall. Thousands of honeybees blindly pass through a mysterious black hole from their very own hives—a mystifying phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). We do not fully understand what causes this or why honeybees just disappear from our very own eyes, but there are a few key factors that may synergistically contribute to this: poor health and nutrition, viruses from pests and mites like varroa, and nicotine-based insecticides (neonicotinoids).

In June 2012, I set out to explore the destructive nature of CCD. First, I began studying the internal anatomy of bees by dissecting them under a microscope. With forceps in one hand and a scalpel in the other, I dissected the string of thoughts clumped into a big ball in my head.

Given three commonly used brands of insecticides, each with different active ingredients (Malathion, Imidacloprid, Carbaryl), I began diluting these ingredients down to tiny traces. When combining such ingredients with sugar syrup, I can test for behavioral effects in bees that ingest pesticide syrup and those that ingest pesticide-free syrup. Over the course of this summer, I integrated my project with another researcher Max Kollmer. We observed behavioral effects every hour for about 7 hours for 5 days. After numerous repeat trials, we discovered that bees that ingested pesticide-syrup died quicker than those that ingested pesticide-free syrup. In some cases, bees that ingested the pesticide syrup showed abnormal movement and died within 5 minutes.

To confirm these results, Max and I marked bees that traveled from our GW Hives to a designated syrup food source and counted those bees that returned after contaminating the food source with pesticide syrup. With new ideas in tweaking and adding to our experiment, I hope to gain more confidence in our data by exploring hemocyte count in pesticide-injected bees and behavioral effects of gaseous ingestion of pesticides.

I am hopeful and ambitious, but what I believe to be the primary cause of CCD is devastating the world that we—humans and honeybees—live in. Bees pollinate more than 70% of the crops that we eat. If bees die because of CCD, we will fall into our very own mysterious black hole. Wake up. The alarm’s ringing. This isn’t a dream.  It’s the neglected reality. It’s a war so we—you and me—must keep buzzing.

-Ricky Zhu

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