The beehive population has dropped from 5 million to 2.5 million since the 1940s. That is a significant decrease and has scientists worried. Pesticides have been blamed and so have our cell phones -- they are emitting radiation that could just be wiping the bee population out.
Now the fear is that bees are getting dementia. A study published on PLoS ONE, says aluminum, "one of the most significant environmental contaminants of recent times," could be responsible for the pollinators' decline.
The study, led by Keele University's Chris Exley and Ellen Rotheray and Dave Goulson of University of Sussex found that bee larvae were heavily contaminated by aluminum, some with toxic levels.
It turns out that when bees forage for nectar they do not actively avoid nectar which contains aluminum, which was once linked with Alzheimer’s in humans although that link has never been proven.
Tiny but complex
Tiny it may be, but a bee’s brain is very complex and studies have found that bees have a pretty good memory. Memory is a high-level cognitive function that involves the ability to remember places facts and events and studies have confirmed the existence of a map-like, spatial memory in the honeybee.
Aluminum may be a factor but age may also play a role.
Bees seem to age like humans according to Gro Amdam, a researcher at Arizona State University.
"We knew from previous research that when bees stay in the nest and take care of larvae — the bee babies — they remain mentally competent for as long as we observe them. However, after a period of nursing, bees fly out gathering food and begin aging very quickly," Amdam said.
And this aging seems to resemble that in humans. "After just two weeks, foraging bees have worn wings, hairless bodies, and more importantly, lose brain function — basically measured as the ability to learn new things," Amdam said.
The White House is getting in on the buzz. The Obama Administration last month expressed concern about the dwindling bee population and the possible consequences for food production. It is supporting a measure that calls for the planting of bee-friendly flowers and plants at federal offices across the country.