Parasitized bees are self-medicating in the wild

Bumblebees infected with a common intestinal parasite are drawn to flowers whose nectar and pollen have a medicinal effect, a Dartmouth-led study shows. The findings suggest that plant chemistry could help combat the decline of bee species.

The researchers previously found in lab studies that nectar containing nicotine and other natural chemicals in plants significantly reduced the number of parasites in sickened bees, but the new study shows parasitized bees already are taking advantage of natural chemicals in the wild.

The study is to appear in the journal Ecology but may be reported now by the media. A PDF of the preprint is available on request. The study was conducted by researchers at Dartmouth College and the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Colony collapse disorder among bees has drawn much attention in recent years, but parasites are a common natural cause of disease in bumblebees and honeybees, both of which play a vital role in agriculture and plant pollination. The intestinal parasite the researchers looked at can strongly affect their survival, reproduction and foraging behavior.

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