Here’s the deal, I am slightly melissophobic (no silly, I’m not afraid of you, Melissa – I’m afraid of bees). Fun fact: When I was around 7 years-old, I was playing outside and encountered my first HUGE swarm – which was not fun. I got inside just in time, thankfully, safe and unscathed aside from the random bee-infested nightmare. It’s not because I hate them or what they do for the environment, quite the opposite in fact. It’s because I am allergic to them and trust me, nobody wants to see me swollen up like Violet Beauregarde. If you do.. well, that’s nice. (Just remind me to return your shuper-shweet vintage Star Wars lunchbox) With that being said, over the past few years I’ve noticed something… fewer and fewer honey bees. This is everywhere I’ve visited around the US. Growing up we’d see them all the time and now… not so much.While my phobic-side is not alarmed by this and is in fact THRILLED that they’re not around much anymore my conservationist, ‘earth-goodwill’ side has a differing opinion.
You might be asking yourself, why am I even talking about bees?
Bees, or specifically honey bees, play a very important role in our day to day lives and many of us don’t even realize it. Those apples and almonds you love to munch on are brought to you in one way or another by bees. They pollinate crops, help pretty flowers grow, and probably their most famous task: THEY MAKE DELICIOUS HONEY. Also, they make for good comedy too.
This is one of my favorite Eddie Izzard segments, and I figured that I should share it with you.
Oh and here’s a list of the many things that bees help with:
- Macadamia nuts
- Alfalfa Hay
- Alfalfa Seed
- Cotton Lint
- Cotton Seed
- Legume Seed
- Sugar Beets
Don’t believe me? Look at the graphic to your right. Out of the 100 main crops that the US is dependent on, 90% of them are only successfully grown with the pollination of bees. Yeah. After looking at this info-graphic I was a bit shocked at the numbers. I did not know that a single bee could help propagate pollination on anywhere from 50-1000 flowers. And guys, that’s just in one trip! I guess I truly understand where the phrase “As busy as a bee” comes from now.
Bees play a crucial roll in so many delicious things, so many things that we take for granted on a day to day basis. Those things that, were the bees to disappear , would be severely affected. So my metaphorical hat is off to them and from now on I will try my darnedest to not freak out as badly when one comes near.
In the winter of 2006, scientists and beekeepers started noticing a decline in the health and population of bee colonies. After some investigation, and the realization that it wasn’t just a localized event, they called it “Colony Collapse Disorder.”
What is Colony Collapse Disorder?
a pathological condition affecting a large number of honeybee colonies, in which various stresses may lead to the abrupt disappearance of worker bees from the hive, leaving only the queen and newly hatched bees behind and thus causing the colony to stop functioning. Abr. as CCD. (dictionary.com)
This lovely disorder didn’t just happen overnight.
As our agricultural prowess has grown, so has our use of pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides. “It’s for the good of the crops and mankind!” screams Monsanto. Sure pesticides and insecticides have helped the yield and sustainability of various crops increase, but it’s a double edged sword that can present itself in a myriad of ways… and only a few that we’re starting to notice. Luckily, scientific experimentation has helped agricultural scientists come up with safer options to all of these -ides, but one as of late (late being the last 30 years) has slipped under the table. I’m talking about the use of Neonicotinoids.
Neonicotinoids, which you guessed – it are made from nicotine, were developed during the 1980s and after only a few studies (of which none were long term) it was introduced into the market. Neonicotinoids are a relatively new class of insecticides that share a common mode of action that affect the central nervous system of insects, resulting in paralysis and death. Coming from a “lets make sure that we stop stupid, evil insects from ruining or eating all of our crops” then yeah, neonicotinoids are awesome… but they’re really not. As of 2013, neonicotinoids (specifically the insecticides derivative, Imidacloprid and Clothianidin) are the most widely used insecticide … in the world.
Why am I telling you this random information? I have a good reason, really I do!
One-third of the U.S. honey bee colonies DIED last winter. Seriously.
As a growing number of hives around the world started to suffer from CCD and the severe threat of ‘bees going bye-bye for good’, more studies and tests were and are being conducted in hopes to find the cause. Scientists have broken up the causes of CCD into four main causes: Pathogens, Parasites, Management Stressors, and Environmental Stressors. (the following breakdown is quoted from the ARS, see documentation and related information here)
Pathogens: Among others, scientists are considering Nosema (a pathogenic gut fungi), Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, and possibly unknown pathogens as possible culprits in CCD. ARS research has indicated that no one pathogen of any class directly correlates with the majority of CCD incidents. Rather, a higher total pathogen load of viruses and bacteria correlates more directly with CCD than any one specific pathogen.
Parasites: Varroa mites are often found in honey bee colonies that are affected by CCD. It is not known if the Varroa mites are directly involved or if the viruses that Varroa mites transmit (similar to the way mosquitoes transmit the malaria virus) are a factor in causing CCD.
Management stressors: Among the management stressors that are possible contributors to CCD are poor nutrition due to apiary overcrowding and increased migratory stress brought on by the honey bees being transported to multiple locations across the country.
Environmental stressors: Such stressors include the impact of pollen/nectar scarcity, lack of diversity in nectar/pollen, availability of only pollen/nectar with low nutritional value, and limited access to water or access only to contaminated water. Stressors also include accidental or intentional exposure to pesticides at lethal or sublethal levels.
When you think about it, that’s a lot of things that can go wrong. Scientists do have their work cut out for them, but recently made a breakthrough connecting those neonicotinoids to CCD. (See, I told you there was a reason!) So much so that the EU has even put a ban on the use of them earlier this summer! Good for them I say. Unfortunately, due to loopholes in the US-Ag. and EPA regulations, the US hasn’t. Now, let me say that banning these insecticides won’t miraculously cure everything. We’ve opened a Pandora’s box that will take several decades to recover from – and that’s if changes are made sooner rather than later. At least it’s a start.
If you would like to learn more about CCD, I highly suggest checking out the documentary Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Telling Us (links to amazon prime and netflix). There are also several interesting articles on the internet, too. Just Google “Colony Collapse Disorder.”
It’s worth a moment of your time, for sure. Also, there are several stories being published about it on various news and ‘news-like’ publications.
- Stay informed.
- If you are ever in a situation where you have found a honey bee swarm in a public location, DO NOT CALL THE EXTERMINATOR! Instead call your local beekeeper or google “Live Bee Swarm removal” + “[your area].” Honey bees aren’t dangerous or violent unless something is provoking them. Like protective parents, they just want to protect their Queen, young larva, and food.
- Plant ‘bee-friendly’ flowers. Flowers that are rich in pollen, usually the brighter-colored the better. Clovers and dandelions are a bees best friend – and they are usually going to grow on their own.
- Add your name to the petition urging the EPA and USDA to ban neonicotinoids, a widely used class of agricultural pesticides that is highly toxic to bees and believed to play a crucial role in colony collapse disorder.
- Go one step further and start your own little hive. Make sure that you’re allowed, within city guidelines, of course. Urban Beekeeping started in the big cities such as NYC and LA and has slowly filtered through to the smaller meccas. Bonus: if you keep bees you get honey. If you have allergies AND keep bees… you’ve got the best medicine – just a tablespoon of fresh honey every day and BAM! allergies are thwarted. Also, you can make your own mead! (Thor would be so proud)
To close, I would like pose this question to you. If the bees are affected over time, what might these insecticides, pesticides, etc be doing to our bodies?