Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bees If You Please

WILD THINGS by Ruth Ann Angus
You've probably heard of it; it's been in the news. Bees are in trouble.

I watch the busy bees every day in my garden and I find it hard to tell what might be going on with them. First of all, there is more than one kind of bee. My big succulent is flowering and large black and yellow bumblebees are all over it. The rest of the garden, with a variety of colorful flowers, is visited by smaller black and yellow bees that I identify as honey bees. There appear to be a lot of them, so what's the problem?

Honey bees have been declining in 35 states and in Europe and South America. As many as 200,000 colonies may have already disappeared. The disaster is a mystery because no one knows what is causing the decline. One day a hive may be full and active and the next barren, with the bees literally disappearing overnight.

"The bees just take off from the hive and never return," one beekeeper said. "We don't even find any carcasses."

So far one-third of honey bees in the United States have disappeared. This phenomenon first came to light in 2006 and has grown worse every year since.

Honey bees are critical to agriculture. You may have seen the white beehive boxes set out in local fields. Commercial beekeepers transport the hives to farmers at their request to pollinate their crops.

One-third of all the food produced in the United States is pollinated by bees. Corn, wheat and rice are not affected but would provide us with monotonous and unsatisfactory nutrition if they were the only crops available.

Because of the needs of agriculture we rely on bees for more than what nature needs. As agriculture calls for bigger and bigger harvests, it bears the question, are we overworking our honey bees and other pollinators, possibly to death?

The life of some of the honey bees in a hive is limited. Worker bees live only 30 days. Some of them become foragers when three weeks old. At this time they communicate with other bees in the hive by performing a special dance using movement and sounds to relay specific sites where nectar may be found. In some cases new foragers are setting out but never return to perform the dance.

If a bee falls ill it leaves the hive to die in order to prevent the rest of the population from getting sick.

There is a name for the mysterious decline now, colony collapse disorder (CCD), and scientists are frantically trying to find out its cause. Everything from malnutrition to AIDS has been suggested.

Bees are adversely affected by toxic pesticides and the Varoa Destructor mite also kills them. But in this case the dead bodies are found. With colony collapse they just disappear. It might be that pesticides, parasites and poor nutrition could all be the cause.

Certain viruses are being explored and one type called IAPV (Israeli acute paralysis virus) has been found in the Israel, the United States, China, and Australia. But whether this is the culprit is not known.

The more hardy Africanized bees appear to be resistant to CCD and beekeepers are now encouraging them to interbreed with honey bees. In the meantime many keepers are using Australian bees to build up their depleted hives.

A new four-year research project will start soon with multiple universities taking part. If the cause of colony collapse disorder is not found soon, it is estimated there could be no honey bees in the United States by 2035.

Busy as a bee freelance writer and nature
photographer Ruth Ann Angus makes her hive
in Morro Bay. Wild Things is a regular
feature of The Bay News.


MrsH said...

Great article!

Mark said...

Aunt Ruth, as a student of Forestry I have been involved in not only the harvesting of our largest cash crop but I also worked the landscaping circuit, Chemlawn, as a tree & shrub expert. While out in the "woods" as they call it the diversity of the flora and fauna tend to keep an "even kill" ratio through the success and failure of different areas of the "woods". In our more agricultural areas and it mat not look it but the suburbs are one of the largest of these areas we not only have a one crop mentality but we also are using many exotics to that area. Also the introduction of foreign insects like the Jap. Beetle & Gypsie moth has lead to the destruction of millions of dollars worht of landscape plants and forest and crop plants. With the loss of these valuable assets to home, farm & wood we have been trying may types of preventative measures, bag-a-bug, sticky tape or tangle foot on trees to name a few non pesticide methods. In the arean of pesticides we have been moving away from the more effective, 1 treatment per year type of systemics, to more frequent sprays with contact sprays like Sevin, which specifically state on the lable, do not spray where honey bees are active. Also with the climate issues that all of the politicians keep ramming down our throats, I am not a proponent of global warming, I actually feel a shift to more cooler temps are actually occuring, what with the rise in rainfall at least in the Eastern half of our country mildly warmer apparent temps and higher humdity will also bring a rise in fungal outbreaks, this can be illustrated with the increase in the "mold houses". Think about it, if the climate was getting warmer the beepopulation would be expanding Northward, not contracting Southward.

Just my semi scientific opinion I guess.

Hope you are feeling well, you are in our prayers.

Check out my web page @ http://www.firstgiving.com/angus2008

Love Mark