Astonishing Time-Lapse Captures the Development of Baby Honeybees

For Berkeley-based photographer Anand Varma, saving the planet’s bees means learning their stories from birth. He keeps a community of bees in the backyard of his own home, where he meticulously records them at astonishingly close range from their infancy as eggs through their development into larvae, pupils, and at last, adult insects. For this one-minute film, he encapsulates the initial three weeks of a bee’s lifetime to capture not only beauty but also the vulnerability of these creatures whose numbers are shrinking at an alarming rate.

When Varma was approached by National Geographic to tell the urgent tale of the honeybees, he committed himself entirely to understanding their anatomy, environment, and biological make-up. Working alongside the scientists at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at University of California, Davis, the photographer, who himself comes with a degree in integrative biology, set about chronicling the ways in which bees react to and suffer from the Varroa destructor, a parasitic mite that is now a major threat to honeybees, along with habitat destruction, pesticides, and disease.

Varma photographed his bees as they developed in their brood cells, nursing as larvae on royal jelly secreted by other bees. Soon, their legs and heads emerge, and finally, their eyes become pigmented and their skin compresses and grows a fuzzy layer of hair. It’s in these brood cells that the Varroa destructor appears, jumping from one to the next, feeding on the colony’s blood, and crippling the immune systems of its bees.

Since about thirty-tree percent of the crops we eat rely on pollination by bees, the future of the species in inextricably linked with our own. As we have domesticated the insects, we have in some ways failed our wild populations. Recently, researchers have begun to artificially inseminate queen bees to produce mite-resistant strains, but sadly, the bees bred through this method do not produce honey and lack the amiable and mellow personalities of most honeybees. The USDA has joined forces with a commercial beekeeper to discover a way of preserving bees that are mite-resistant while maintaining the invaluable characteristics of wild honeybees. For Varma, bees and humans can only survive if together we learn to work with and to understand one another.

via Colossal

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