Where Have All the Bees gone?
There’s a crisis in California, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia–A honeybee crisis called Colony Collapse Disorder. This is a REAL CRISIS! Honeybees are directly related to the survival of humans on this planet. Bees are dying off in large numbers and it is a very serious problem. Some beekeepers have reported losing up to 80% of their colonies. This devastation could have broad effects on agriculture and scientists are scrambling to find the cause of this mysterous bee disappearance.
You may wonder why disappearing bees can be a crisis. Many crops including fruits, nuts, vegetables, legumes and seed crops depend on pollination–the transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma of a plant or flower in the process of fertilization. Pollination occurs when insects (mainly honeybees) brush against and pick up pollen from one flower and carry it to another flower. (Remember this from Biology class?)
A recent report from the National Research Council states that three-fourths of all flowering plants, including most food crops and some that provide fiber, drugs and fuel rely on pollinators for fertilization. One third of the diet of humans is dependent directly or indirectly from insect-pollinated plants, and 80% of insect pollination is done by honeybees. The bee shortage is affecting apple growers in Pennsylvania, almond growers in California, (where 80% of the world’s almond supply is produced) and watermelon growers in Florida, and crops in 19 other states. Other crops that rely on honeybee pollination include: Apples, avocados, blueberries, mangos, cocoa, cherries, watermelon, tangerines, oranges, sunflowers, squash, pumpkins, grapefruit, melons, cashews, cucumbers and cranberries. Also, forage plants for cows like as clover and alfalfa need pollination.
The nation’s honeybee population had already been reduced in recent years by the tiny, parasitic bug called the varroa mite. This mite has already destroyed more than 50 percent of hives and devastated most wild honeybee populations.
Unusual colony death reports have come from at least 22 states. Often, beekeepers have thousands of bee colonies and they are reporting losing roughly 50 percent of their honeybees. A typical colony can have about 50,000 bees in the winter and 60,000 bees in the summer.
Typically, the bodies of dead bees are often littered around a hive, sometimes carried out and placed there by the worker bees. With this mysterious ailment, no bee remains are being found around the colonies. Scientists are speculating the bees are flying away from the hive before dying. “That is a real abnormality” said Diana Cox-Foster, a Penn State entomology professor investigating the problem.
Beekeepers are wondering if honeybee deaths reported over the past several years that had been blamed on the varroa mite or poor colony management may have actually been the mystery ailment. Researchers are beginning to think the mystery disease may have been around for three or four years.
Many other species of insects like butterflies, beetles and flies are important as pollinators too. Often these other insects annoy us and we squash them or kill them by spraying. We need to realize how important these other pollinator species are to our survival.
Evidence is overwhelming that both the wild and the domesticated pollinators are declining around the world. Some have already reached total extinction while others are at risk. We must depend on wild species such as the butterflies, bumble bees, and wasps to help pollinate the crops we so desperately depend on for our existence.
Please keep this in mind: One out of every three bites or swallows we take was made possible by a pollinator!