Michael is an author with a passion for the environment. He is trying to save the planet, one reader at a time!
Why Are Honey Bees So Important?
Are you aware that honey bees worldwide are dying from colony collapse disorder, an affliction that could have global ramifications? If you've been following recent environmental news in the last half decade, you're aware that honey bees in Europe and the United States are undergoing a massive decline in hive population at an increasingly alarming rate. For those who think it doesn't sound like such a big deal—think again.
Honey bees are crucial for pollinating plants that produce nearly 30% of food supplies in the U.S. The disappearance of the species has had and will continue to have a significant impact on people and our environment. In the U.S. alone, the bees responsible for pollinating over $30 billion in crops have vanished for a multitude of suspected and/or confirmed reasons.
The U.S. government stated, "Over the last five years, honey bee populations have been dying at an economically unsustainable rate." They are, for the time being, not listed as endangered, but they are being overwhelmingly threatened. For scientists, it has been a baffling dilemma to successfully get ahead of the causes for the mass death of honey bees.
Food Crops Pollinated by Honey Bees
Aside from creating honey, the only food produced by an insect that humans consume willingly, bees also pollinate a wide array of plants and flowers. There are many notable foods humans stand to lose in substantial quantities if they continue dying.
Alfalfa, almonds, apples, apricots, blackberries, blueberries, bok choy, brazil nuts, cherries, clovers, cucumbers, grapes, mangoes, muskmelons, nectarines, papayas, peaches, pears, persimmons, plums, prunes, pumpkins, raspberries, squash, sunflowers, tamarind, tomatoes, trefoil, watermelons, vanilla—this is just some of what we'd be missing production-wise if honey bees disappeared altogether.
If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.
— Albert Einstein
Reasons Why Honey Bees Are Disappearing
Beekeepers from all over the world have been reporting worker bees leaving their colonies and vanishing instead of returning to their hives. An inability to maintain a hive due to a great number of bees being lost leads to the eventual collapse of the colony. One of the main suspected causes for the mass deaths has been coined "colony collapse disorder" or CCD for short.
Researchers and scientists have gone to painstaking lengths to pinpoint the catalyst for CCD, which has accounted for the loss of over 10 million beehives in the last seven years, worth well over $2 billion. But recently, scientists from the University of Maryland have identified a cocktail of fungicides and pesticides that are contaminating pollen that the bees collect to feed their entire colony.
However, this is only one factor that attributes to honey bees disappearing worldwide. Other variables in the decimation of colonies include:
- Nutritional imbalance due to certain aspects of climate change
- The possibility of a mutated virus affecting their health
- Stress stemming from changes in weather
- Stress from confinement and complications in transportation
Colony Collapse Disorder and Pesticides
Beekeepers, scientists, and consumer groups believe the climbing rate of bee mortality is directly linked to the growing use of insecticides sold by agrochemical companies to increase yields in staple crops, such as corn. Companies like Monsanto Co, DuPont, Syngenta AG, and Bayer AG have been busy spinning their own version of causality and scapegoating other causes for the rise of CCD.
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An in-depth study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that two widely used neonicotinoids (a class of insecticide) appeared to harm colonies during cold weather, especially over winter months. Yet, these agrochemical companies put all their efforts into not addressing the problem and instead spend their immense resources to dissuade the public of the devastating consequences of fiddling with nature.
Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved yet another insecticide that is highly toxic and deadly to honey bees. With agrochemical conglomerates and special interest groups averting public opinion and the EPA failing to address the dire situation with proper care, honey bees and their benefits to the world hang in the balance.
Unlike the U.S., it appears that Europe will err on the side of wisdom and strive to be more vigilant in their use of harmful insecticides. In 2013, the European Union said it would indefinitely ban neonicotinoid use in staple crops, including in lawns and home gardens.
Similar regulations of pesticide use in the United States could cost major manufacturers millions in revenue. Unfortunately, corporate greed is still a prevalent factor in the declining health of the entire planet.
Honey Bee Deaths Conspiracy
There have also been some unsubstantiated claims and theories around the causes of colony collapse disorder. These intriguing claims have included mobile phone radiation, a terrorist plot to undermine American food production, and even a religious event dubbed, "The Honey Bee Rapture," which involves bees becoming captivated by celestial bodies.
Possibly the most striking and controversial of these conspiracy theories is that leaked Environmental Protection Agency documents have exposed the agency's tolerance of clothianidin squeezing its way through regulatory channels in the wake of scientists and researchers warning of its detrimental effect on bee colonies.
How Can We Save the Honey Bees?
In light of the mass deaths of whole colonies, something Albert Einstein said comes to mind: "If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live." What is more disturbing than Einstein's concise prediction is his certainty in the matter.
Whether we will lose the battle to help honey bees remains to be seen. If I may ask readers to do anything, it's to spread awareness. If trends continue, they're in real danger of becoming an endangered species. If we lose honey bees, one-third of the planet's food production will be affected. It will no doubt affect this planet and its human inhabitants profoundly.
Imagine an increasingly hungry world faced with even more hunger—is that a future you want to see? Please share this article with friends and your social network. Facebook it, tweet it, pin it—whatever helps to spread awareness!
Interesting Facts About Honey Bees
- A single bee will produce an amount equal to 1/10th of a teaspoon of honey during its lifetime.
- A queen can lay up to 2,500 eggs daily and is able to produce over a million eggs in her lifetime.
- An entire colony will fly upward of 100,000 miles to produce 1 kilogram of honey, the equivalent of three trips around Earth.
- The honey bee is the only insect known to produce a food source for humans.
- Honey bees perform the most complex symbolic language/dance of any insect on the planet.
- An over-achieving and highly productive worker may visit up to 2,000 flowers per day.
- honey bees are the only bees that die after they use their stingers.
- There are over 20,000 species of bees, yet only four produce honey.
- They have the ability to maintain a hive temperature of 93–96 degrees, despite external temperatures of between 110 and -40 degrees.
- Honey bees have a maximum flight speed of up to 15 miles per hour.
- They are known to be cannibalistic when times are bad. They will eat their own larvae for survival to assure the continuity of the hive.
- Bees are now being utilized to sniff out bombs and land mines for the military.
- A bee's sense of smell is more sensitive than a canine's.
- Environmental Protection Agency "Colony Collapse Disorder" 2017.
- Dr. Ramesh Sagili and Dr. Louisa Hooven, National Pesticide Information Center "Bee Colony Collapse Disorder" 2016.
- David Maxwell Braun, National Geographic "What We Now Know – and Don’t Know — About Honeybees and Colony Collapse Disorder" 2016.
- Lance Sundberg, American Beekeeping Federation "Honey Bee Facts" 2015.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2014 Michael Kismet