Sunday, 25 October 2015

These social bees farm and eat fungus or die

Date:October 22, 2015

Source:Cell Press

Researchers have discovered that a social, stingless bee from Brazil feeds its larvae on a special type of fungus grown in the nest. Without it, very few young survive, according to a report in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on October 22.

The discovery marks the first such relationship between a social bee and cultivated fungus. The findings also raise concerns about the use of fungicides in agriculture, the researchers say.

"These bees do not survive without the fungus," says Cristiano Menezes of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA). "This is amazing because it opens up a new field in bee research to understand the role of this and other microorganisms in colony health. On the other hand, it is frightening because fungicides and bactericides are widely sprayed during blooming periods of several crops and may affect bees' symbionts and consequently their health."

The researchers made the discovery quite by accident. Menezes was on a quest to produce queens of the Brazilian stingless bee (Scaptotrigona depilis) in the lab. When he kept the developing bees in a humid chamber, he saw a lot of white fungus begin to grow out of control, and then the larvae died. He thought it was some kind of a disease plaguing the bees.

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