What will save the bees? In an effort to explore the issue, National Geographic commissioned writer Charles C Mann and photographer Anand Varma to produce a story called Quest for a Superbee for the May 2015 issue of the magazine. A fascinating retrospective that delves deeper than everyday hysterics about the ‘beepocalypse’ unveils one of the biggest threats to our most important pollinator is the Varroa destructor, a mite that is quickly becoming resistant to the chemicals beekeepers are forced to pump into bee hives to protect them. In order to better understand his subject, Varma became a beekeeper himself. Read on to learn more about this fascinating video depicting the first 21 days of a bee’s life.

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In a TED talk, Varma describes the mechanics taking places throughout the video he produced with U.C. Davis, from egg to larvae to a fully-grown working machine. In it, he explains how the Varroa mite attacks the baby bees and weakens their immune system. He claims the mite is the single greatest threat to bees, greater even than neonicotinoids that have received so much press in recent years.

“As you can see halfway through that video, the mites were running around on the baby bees, and the way that beekeepers typically manage these mites is they treat their hives with chemicals. In the long run, that’s bad news, so researchers are working on finding alternatives to control these mites.”

Related: Honeybees devastated by second highest die-off on record in 2014

In order to protect the bees, keepers and researchers have attempted to breed mite-resistant varieties. Unfortunately, in doing so, they’ve also accidentally eliminated other important qualities. Treehugger’s Melissa Brayer writes, “But as happens when scientists start playing around with genetics, they’ve inadvertently bred other traits out of the mite-resistant ones, like gentleness and the ability to store honey. Oops.”

In their quest to create a Superbee that can withstand all of the environmental obstacles humanity throws at them combined with nature’s own challenges, Monsanto is also getting involved. And you know what an uproar that is going to cause. It’s definitely worth heading over to National Geographic to read the whole story, which will give you a much better picture of what’s really happening to bees and what we can and can’t do to help them.

+ National Geographic

Image via Shutterstock