The Bee Nutritionist

Tufts Now All Stories

Rachael Bonoan and I approach nine honey bee hives on Cummings School’s Grafton campus, covered from head to toe in heavy bee suits. One bee after another begins to buzz the mesh veil protecting our faces. I break into a sweat, not from being encased in canvas on a hot summer afternoon, but rather from a bit of bee-induced panic.But Bonoan, a Tufts Ph.D. candidate in biology, is unperturbed, as she goes about gently taking the top off the hive and filling it with smoke she pours from a kettle. She leisurely begins removing the frames inside the hive, one by one, to inspect each rectangle’s wax comb for signs of healthy reproduction: bee eggs, just-hatched larvae that look like tiny grubs, velvet-looking little hexagons (cells in the comb where the grubs have been capped over in wax to incubate until they’re ready for prime time), and fuzzy young bees that have just chewed their way out of the wax to make room for the next round of babies. “It’s all about knowing the bees, really,” says Bonoan. “I didn’t get stung at all last year.”
Though certainly savvy about working at “bee speed,” Bonoan, G18, tells me that there’s much she still wants to learn about how nutrition affects these highly social insects.  
She hopes her research may help honey bees and other bees, which are responsible for pollinating a third of the crops consumed by Americans. Their numbers have declined at an alarming rate—half of all honey bee colonies, which should exist in perpetuity, have been wiped out since the 1950s. Possible causes include chemicals and pesticides, diseases caused by fungi, viruses and bacteria, stress from being trucked all over the country to pollinate crops, and—Bonoan’s special area of interest—nutritional deficiencies caused by pollinating large amounts …

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