Survived for Weeks Under Volcano Ash After Canary Islands Eruption

The tiny insects were thought to have perished as they meandered through the ash

Honeybees Survived for Weeks Under Volcano Ash After Canary Islands Eruption

Honeybees were thought to have died off when the Canary Islands volcano eruption sent ash over the Spanish islands, but a team of researchers has surprised the scientific community by discovering that the insects were actually able to survive several weeks under the volcanic ash.

New research by biologists from Spain, England and Morocco has found that colonies survived two weeks of ash within 30 miles of a volcanic eruption. Until now, researchers thought bees would only survive four to six weeks under volcanic ash.

“Like many organisms, honeybees are able to seek out food under a changing environmental context, and this ability to quickly adapt to new conditions could be essential to their survival,” said Pablo Berdini, a professor at Humboldt University and one of the study’s authors.

The researchers first noticed that bees were still staying in their hives during the eruption while the ash spread over the volcano in 2004, then later found that the bee population actually increased despite the ash.

Their latest finding shows that the bees were able to find food in abundant amounts despite the ash, and even flocking to it in numbers. Though they lacked any flowers, they still managed to find enough carbohydrates to survive the ash, leading the researchers to believe that the bees were able to metabolize the sugar found in the ash.

“We did the calculation: 250 kg of sugar per hectare, we extrapolated this weight and divided by 3,000 hectres of hives – and we got 985 tonnes of sugar per hectare,” said Charles Dundas, a researcher from the University of Otago, in New Zealand.

“We thought, well, they’re not going to last that long. The subsequent impact of the ash is quite profound for honeybees, and they seem to have adapted pretty well.”

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