We all have our own bitter painful memories of getting stung by bees in our childhood. Although more than often all the blame of this stinging is put on the honey bees, what we do not know is that honey bees are gentle herbivorous insects that only sting in self defense. Most of those road side stingers were actually wasps or yellow brackets, which remain anonymous despite their biting sprees. But we are not just going talk about redeeming the reputation of honeybees but also about how honeybees are the one animal that can make or break food prices, how they are dying at an alarming rate and how a third of our food items are dying with them.
While humans evolve just around 200,000 years ago, honeybees have been buzzing on this planet for more than 3 million years now. They appeared some million years after the first flower bloomed on the face of the earth, which was around 30 million years ago. Since then they have been building their hives and converting nectar into a sweet viscous fluid that we know as honey. As they were doing that, they also pollinated numerous varieties of plants and flowers hence enabling them to produce seeds and fruits.
These seeds and fruits are a key part of our diet, so much that every third mouthful of food is produced directly or indirectly because of pollination by honeybees. These food items worth around $265 Billion which is more than the GDP of countries like Finland, Venezuela, Portugal or Chile. The food items that we get because of bees include apples, mangoes, plums, peaches, strawberries, pears, onions, cashews, cherries and around 120 others that form our nutritious diet. The coffee that we so solemnly love is also produced because of honeybees.
But unfortunately, we are losing our bees. There was a drastic rise in the number of disappearance of western bee colonies in North America in the year 2005. European beekeepers observed similar phenomena in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, Switzerland and Germany, albeit to a lesser degree, and the Northern Ireland Academy received reports of a decline greater than 50%.
This steep decrease in the population of honey bees is attributed to Colonial Collapse Disorder(CCD) which is a phenomenon in which a large number of worker bees leave their hives with enough honey and small worker bees that will take care of the queen. But eventually the hive dies and the worker bees also do not survive without a home to return to. In the 6 years leading upto the year 2013, more than 10 million beehives were lost, often to CCD and every single beehive can has 50,000 to 80,000 bees. And the worst part is that there is no one reason that is widely accepted as the cause of CCD, which means that even though we have a problem, a very serious one at that, we as of yet do not have a solution.
But there are several suggested causes which might have caused CCD including infections with Varrora and Acarapis Mites, malnutrition, various pathogens, genetic factors, immunodeficiencies, changing beekeeping practices; or a combination of factors. A large amount of speculation has surrounded a family of pesticides called neonicotinoids as having caused CCD.
A 2015 review examined 170 studies on Colony Collapse Disorder and stressors on bees and according to it “Bees of all species are likely to encounter multiple stressors during their lives, and each is likely to reduce the ability of bees to cope with the others. A bee or bee colony that appears to have succumbed to a pathogen may not have died if it had not also been exposed to a sublethal dose of a pesticide and/or been subject to food stress (which might in turn be due to drought or heavy rain induced by climate change, or competition from a high density of honey bee hives placed nearby).”
Not only there had been no medical aid provided to the bees to fight off the pathogens and the mites that constantly affect their health, the market of neonicotinoids family of pesticides has increased to roughly around 3 billion Euros in 2015 from 1.5 billion Euros in 2008. Without any concrete measures taken to prevent Colony Collapse Disorder, the number of beehives around the world are decreasing at a margin as high as 20-25%. Even for a domesticated insect with very high population all around the world, a rate this high is catastrophic.
A general awareness about the condition of honey bees can go a very long way in saving them. Governments are needed to be pressurized so that they will limit the use of neonicotinoids type pesticides and promote better ways beekeeping along with medical measures to cure a hive of mites. The time is crucial and without some reformative measures, there won’t be any bees left to let us bee.
Lest we forget –
If the Bee Disappeared Off the Face of the Earth, Man Would Only Have Four Years Left To Live.
Albert Einstein (Probably)