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Berks and Schuylkill Beekeeper's Association - Bees on Turtlehead flower to help with parasite issues.

Bees Use Medicinal Flowers In the Field!

21 Sep 15
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New research shows infected bees of parasite issues seek out the nectar and pollen of flowers with medicinal qualities. The determination was made wild bees are proactive and resourceful when it comes to helping themselves.

Berks and Schuylkill Beekeeper's Association - Bee on Turtle Head flower for medicinal purposes

There are iridoid glycosides, found in floral nectar and it is found this reduces the parasite loads of infected bees as found by scientists at Dartmouth College. Two of the naturally occurring compounds are aucubin and catalpol. These are commonly found in a variety of turtlehead, a flower found among East Coast wetlands.  (Photo to the left and below are bees on a turlehead flower for medicinal usage.)

Researchers manipulated concentrations of the medicinal compounds in flowers and studied bee behavior in the lab. As compared to healthy bees, parasitized bee paid more frequent visits to the medicinal flowers. Via instinct, the bees know what they need and do what is needed to help themselves.   I cannot learn about bees without admiring their great qualities!


Commonly found in floral nectar and pollen, secondary metabolites functions are not fully understood but these seem to be significant. Leif Richardson, a former Dartmouth grad student now at the University of Vermont, said in a press release. “In this study, we show that these compounds could influence plant reproduction via complex suites of interactions involving not only pollinators but also their natural enemies.” Richardson is the lead author of a new paper on self-medication among bee populations, published this week in the journal Ecology.

Previous research has shown natural chemical compounds found in nectar, like nicotine, can diminish the presence of intestinal parasites in infected bees, but the new findings suggest other parasite-killing chemicals are readily available in the wild.


“We show that bees might be able to self-medicate, altering their foraging behavior when parasitized so as to maximize their consumption of beneficial plant secondary metabolite compounds,” said senior study author Rebecca Irwin, a former Dartmouth researcher now at North Carolina State University.

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