Stressed Out? So Are the Bees.

It is without doubt that we are living in a fast-paced world. Technology, globalisation, shifting social dynamics and increased financial pressures have many of us battling with mental health. Perhaps it’s a kind of “can’t switch off” mentality, a feeling of displacement, or just overworked exhaustion. Whatever the cause, this very real battle affects many people across the world, including in Australia; in fact, anxiety is the number one issue threatening the mental health of adults in this country, with one in four people experiencing anxiety of some kind in their lifetime. This shocking statistic shows us that we need to slow down and consciously evaluate what’s important in order to tackle those aspects of contemporary life that have us stressed, deflated and running on empty.

Interestingly, a recent study by academics Amélie Cabirol and Andrew Barron found that humans are not the only ones experiencing the pressures of modern life; bees too are feeling the strain! Their research evaluated the problem-solving abilities of honey bees when undergoing foraging activities. This included using radio tags to track individual bees and testing bees’ ability to identify different plant species. As we know, the honey bee can travel up to 5 kms from the hive to find vital pollen and nectar for its colony. However, this is a long distance for such a small creature, and, as the researchers suggest, extraneous factors such as predators, challenging weather conditions and the risk of flying off track and getting lost all impact the worker bees’ voyage.

The researchers found that chronic stress affecting humans could be parallelled to the stressors experienced by bees. In their study, stress changed the connectivity between specific neurons in the bees’ brains, altering their capabilities. In other words, the bees in this study needed to be at their mental best in order to successfully voyage out into the world in search of the right food, especially as different flowers only produce pollen and nectar at specific times of the year. If the bees are struggling mentally, or stressed, it is likely that they will not be able to find the right plants and collect enough food for their colony. In one example, the researchers suggested that stress could be the cause of a bee being less able to learn new smells when foraging for a long time or at high intensities.

And as Cabirol and Barron conclude from their intriguing study, it is interesting to consider stress on bees as a potential factor in colony collapse disorder (the phenomenon of honey bee decline across the globe). As bees are the world’s most valuable pollinators, aiding 70% of food crops, it is imperative that we help these little battlers. How you might ask? Plant a bee-friendly garden, put out some water to hydrate our tiny friends and join your local bee community to help the bees stay happy, healthy and stress-free.

Stressed Out? So Are the Bees!

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