Honeybees in Peril: “Their Crisis is our Crisis”

beesIt is easy to vilify bees – they sting, annoy, and lack the beauty of butterflies and ladybugs. But the tiny insects are, in fact, critical to our survival. By travelling from plant to plant, they pollinate 40% of our food. They are also prey for birds and, thus, a key component of the food chain. For these reasons, ecologists say “our very lives depend on bees”.

Unfortunately, bee populations in the United States (as well as in many other regions) have endured a precipitous decline in recent years. According to the documentary “Queen of the Sun”, the US has lost about 5 million colonies of bees, each with 20,000 to 60,000 honeybees. In 2006 alone, the US lost approximately 50% of its bee colonies. This phenomenon is aptly called “colony collapse disorder” (CCD).

While the exact cause of CCD remains unknown, many theories exist. In the United States, a leading theory is the transportation of bees to central California to pollinate massive almond farms. The trip, occurring every February, not only inflicts great stress on bees. It also causes a mixing of 3/4 of American bees, enabling the spread the viruses. Furthermore, when the almond blossoms disappear after several weeks, the bees are left without a food source due to the absence of other crops (known as “monoculture”).

A further theory is the rise of mites. Tracheal mites burrow into bees’ windpipes, while varroa mites destroy bees’ reproductive systems. Pesticides, ironically, exacerbate the problem. In addition to creating stronger breeds of mites, pesticides like Neonicotinoids contain neurotoxins, affecting bees’ ability to navigate back to their hives.

The artificial insemination of queen bees is yet another theory. The practice replaces the natural “marriage flight” of bees, during which the queen bee flies high into the air. Only the strongest and fittest drones reach and impregnate the queen, ensuring the strongest offspring.

Finally, many experts have blamed the increase in genetically modified organisms. Besides foreign genes, many of these organisms contain antibiotic markers and bio-toxins, which transfer to bees via pollen. The antibiotics attack the “healthy bacteria” in bees, used to create honey and bee pollen (their food), and the biotoxins weaken or kill bees.

Given these potential causes, what steps can society take to save the precious honeybee? Farmers can engage in biodynamic farming (farming more than one crop) and refrain from using pesticides and GMO seeds. Beekeepers can cease migratory beekeeping and the artificial insemination of queen bees. Moreover, society can respect bees and their habitats, as well as pass protective policies. In other words, let nature be!

Don’t ignore this “canary in the coal mine”. Help protect bees today! To learn more, watch “Queen of the Sun” (available on Netflix).

August 17th is National Honey Bee Day.  If you’re in the Los Angeles area, celebrate with the Non-Profit HoneyLove and their 2:00 PM Flash Mob at the 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica.

Flickr photo credit: Universal Pops

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