Think self-medication is limited to WASPy Connecticut couples and possibly mushroom-eating monkeys (see: Terrence McKenna’s “Stoned Ape” theory of evolution)? Think again.
According to research from North Carolina State University, honey bees “self-medicate” when their colony is infected with a harmful fungus by flying in a higher percentage of antifungal plant resins to rid the colony of the pathogen. The drug? Propolis, an admixture of plant resins and wax that contains antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Domesticated honey bees also use Propolise, but wild honey bees bring in 45% more on average under such circumstances, and were noted to have physically removed ”infected larvae that had been parasitized by the fungus and were being used to create fungal spores.”
The paper, “Increased resin collection after parasite challenge: a case of self-medication in honey bees?,” was co-authored Dr. NC State’s Michael Simone-Finstrome and by Dr. Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota and published March 29 in PLoS ONE.
“The colony is willing to expend the energy and effort of its worker bees to collect these resins,” says Dr. Simone-Finstrom. “So, clearly this behavior has evolved because the benefit to the colony exceeds the cost.”
One hopes that the bees, already greatly impacted by global warming, don’t become too obsessed with finding Propolis like crackheads in search of the next fix, or WASPs in search of their next white wine.