Health of Honeybees

Honey bee on lavender.

Honeybee.

This is Dr. Reese Halter’s latest article on honeybees. The news is not good. Bees are the “canary in the coal mine” for our environment being directly tied to the reproductive cycle of many of the world’s plants, a very delicate process that is very sensitive to environmental disruption and contamination.

I know this is a lot of text, but please take a few minutes read it. Then read my comments below his article to understand what we can all do as individuals and as a society to stem this tide of bee death by lessening mankind’s impact on the earth and give our planet a chance to heal itself.

The Plight of Dwindling Honeybees
by Dr. Reese Halter
July 13, 2010

Each spring, during my childhood, I planted trees with my dad and my brother, and the bees always intrigued us. Last year, in late June, I finished "The Incomparable Honeybee;" I was cautiously optimistic that the overall death rate amongst honeybees was trending downward.

Just prior to the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, the overwinter and spring bee survey numbers from across our nation were released. The numbers were startling; our humble honeybees are sicker than ever.

The honeybee deaths from 2010 were much higher than those reported in 2009. In 2010, the death rate was 34 percent, up from last year's rate of 29 percent. On average, beekeepers in the U.S. lost 42 percent of their operational bees in 2009-10 compared with 23 percent in 2008-09. This loss is over three times greater than what is considered acceptable at about 14 percent.

Moreover, last year marked a record-low honey production nationwide. Honey production dropped by 12 percent from the year previous or about 20 million pounds to 144 million pounds.

In America, over 50 billion honeybees have perished within the last year, scientists call this eerie condition Colony Collapse Disorder. When the honeybees get sick they will not return to the colony, Nature designed these social creatures not to infect one another when they get ill. The queen bee is the only insect left in the hive; helpless, she too dies quickly.

Worldwide honeybees accounts directly for at least a quarter of a trillion dollars of commerce and every continent accept Australia is suffering badly from the decline of bees.

As early as 2005, some of my colleagues were alarmed by the amounts of pesticides that were turning up in hives. For instance, one study found 66 different pesticides in one hive. Not only were three quarters of these pesticides toxic to bees but the combined effects or what farmers call stacking, increases the toxicity effects of the chemicals by 10, 100 and/or 1,000 times. The pesticides also affect bees' nervous systems, behavior and larval development.

The pesticide impact can also ripple throughout a colony. A tainted forager can contaminate the hive with pesticides, which reduce the number of eggs laid by the queen and impair the workers' memory and spatial orientation.

Since 2005, scientists have discovered in depth what appears to be going on. It turns out, interestingly, that bees and humans share a great deal in common. Of immediate interest is that bees, like humans, are much more susceptible to illness when they are stressed.

A combination of factors is causing Colony Collapse Disorder: Parasites, viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition, climate change, electromagnetic cellular radiation and pesticides.

Research conducted in 23 U.S. states and Canada recently found 121 different pesticides in 887 samples of bees, wax, pollen and hive samples. Scientists strongly believe that pesticides are a key component of Colony Collapse Disorder.

Even low-level pesticide exposure weakens immune systems. Stressed bees are highly susceptible to mites that spread viruses, and to fungal parasites like Nosema ceranae which cause "bee diarrhea" in combination with members of the dicistroviridae family RNA viruses.

Of even more concern was that three out of five pollen and wax samples from 23 states had at least one systemic pesticide — a chemical designed to spread throughout all parts of a plant.

Essentially, bees are harvesting pollen laced with lethal poison and feeding it to their young. In addition, many of these systemic pesticides are from a family of highly-toxic chemicals called neonictinoids. Bees exposed to these chemicals exhibit symptoms similar to humans afflicted with Parkinson's disease or Alzheimer's disease.

Although cellular phones and towers are not, thankfully, found in any concentrations on farmers' fields or wild forests and meadows, recent studies have shown some disturbing results that impair any bee foraging near towns or cities around the globe.

A cellular phone placed in a bee hive, powered-up twice daily for 15-minutes over a three month period caused, during each 15-minute period, honey production to cease, the queen only laid half as many eggs and the hive shrunk dramatically. Cellular phone radiation in the frequency range of 900 to 1,800 MHz also disrupts the bees' ability to navigate.

On the brighter side, a unique population of honeybees, Apis mellifera, isolated for perhaps 10,000 years has been found living at an oasis in the northern Sahara Desert. This pathogen-free population is currently being studied for it may contain genetic traits able to fend off the Varroa destructor parasite mite and therefore help beekeepers worldwide.

In the meantime, a colony of bees requires the equivalent of 20 football fields, without end zones, each full of flowers, to make a living for 30 days. In the wild, about 40 full-sized maples, basswoods, black locust, magnolias, eucalypts, apple and tulip trees per acre have about a million blossom that can also support one colony of bees for part of their harvesting season.

Support organic farming and local beekeepers, eat locally and consider what Dr. Albert Einstein said: If the bees disappear from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years to live.

Dr. Reese Halter is a conservation biologist at Cal Lutheran University, public speaker and author of The Incomparable Honeybee and the Economics of Pollination. Contact him through http://DrReese.com

These are some of my urgent recommendations for things we can do to help the bees, ourselves and our incredible planet:

  1. Buy organic food whenever possible. Our cheap, industrially produced and processed food is making us sick and causing huge harm to our environment .
  2. Fight the use of GMO (genetically modified organism) crops tooth and nail. GMO corn pollen is toxic to butterflies and bees! The Europeans have stood up to the corporate destruction of our irreplaceable seed diversity by not allowing these “Frankenstein” crops to be grown.
  3. Preserve our open space, wildlands and wilderness. Native bees will be the only thing that may save us should the honeybee continue to decline.  They need natural landscapes to nest and forage.
  4. Garden organically at home. The quantities of pesticides used in our home landscapes rivals that of conventional agriculture. Don’t let the chemical corporations and their Big Box retailers make chemical pesticide use look safe and harmless.
  5. Plant a diversity of flowering annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs in your yard to feed the bees. Many of our favorite flowering plants provide essential nectar and pollen to feed the bees.
  6. Grow your own vegetables and fruit. Support farmer’s markets. Locally produced food is healthy food and feeds the bees. It’s a big wonderful cycle of life.
  7. Support amateur bee keepers. By local honey. The rise in popularity of home bee keeping can protect our bees from their use in industrial farming that is stressing and contaminating killing off the hives.
  8. Teach our kids to garden. How can they protect and appreciate what they don’t understand?

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8 thoughts on “Health of Honeybees”

  • Sylvia Moore
    Sylvia Moore 07/23/10 at 7:35 pm

    Did you know that they just killed 50,000 honey bees in Orlando,Fl. They were in a hugh bee hive in between a wall they were tearing down. I wondered why they didnt get them to a beekeeper. I have been reading about and seeing on TV that bees are becoming scarce.The man that was doing the talking (on TV) said that bees are not scarce,that why they were killing them.

  • s.t

    I live in Boise, Id and have too noticed the decline in honey bees. My yard is full of flowers & maybe have seen a couple here and there. I'm considering starting a few honeybee hives, just to help replenish what is obviously lost.

  • Mike

    It can't actually be attributed that Einstein ever said that, either in writing or in speech transcripts, but the fact is basically sound. I live in San Jose and have my yard cock-full of wildflowers and native plants. I don't use any pesticides or herbicides and only organic methods and fertilizers. Yet, I could count on two hands the number of honeybees I have seen. Encouragingly, this being my third year in my home, I have seen more honeybees this year than the last two, as few as there are now.

    I am sure my neighbors' gardening practices have a direct impact on bee populations. With the diversity of plants I grow, the natural predators have come in to solve most of my pest problems. If our urban landscapes don't eliminate pesticide use, then there is little hope for honeybees in our yards.

    • Greg F.

      Thank you David for publicizing this disturbing trend with bees. I really belive it is an indicator of the overall health of our planet and who has the most influence to impact change, good or bad. The "superorganism" that is the biodiversity on the Earth is definitely in deep trouble. I am an avid gardener and garden designer and I am asked frequently why should anyone worry about going "organic". My response now is the threat is to the human population and our legacy on this planet. We can easily impact change to nuture biodiversity or not. If we choose to not consider our actions, it is Homo sapiens that will suffer. Over 99% of all living creatures that have inhabited the Earth are extinct. That is how evolution proceeeds. The Earth has the ability to correct itself, but humanity could end up not being part of it. So, nuturing biodiversity and valuing the evolutionary position we are in is in our own best interest. Time will tell if our own evolution has progressed enough to impart change to help our planet and help ourselves in the process.

      Keep up the great work in keeping this topic current!!

  • Francine Fields
    Francine Fields 04/19/11 at 4:44 am

    Thank you for sharing the message about the bees and the environment...and our doom if we do not change our ways. Tell us how to persuade Monsanto and other big corporations that they are responsible for much of the continuing demise. And, let us think how we can find a substitute for bee pollination before it is too late. And let us hold our world in the Light and ask for solutions.

  • mimi lien

    bees are not our only loss: butterflies, dragonflies, tree frogs, and garter snakes, are also rarely seen where they once flourished. you are right in thinking your neighbors' yards have much to do with what manages to make its way into your garden.

  • Jessica Wayman
    Jessica Wayman 05/23/11 at 6:56 am

    I too have heard of that quote attributed to Einstein. Here is the best explanation I can find: http://www.snopes.com/quotes/einstein/bees.asp
    It is a fairly simple equation no matter who thinks it or says it. We are inextricably linked to the honey bee unless we are all planing to live off of food from McDonalds and Doritos. Now that is a scary thought. One book I highly recommend is by Rudolph Steiner titled, " Bees".

    • dodie

      I too only have a hand full of bee's in my garden. 2 years ago I had many bees. This past week I counted about 3-4 bee's getting water for their hive, I keep 2 large 12 inch x 2 inch high dish's in the back yard for the wild animals and insects to get water from. We have no fence and live on a wash. Monsanto does not care about you or me or the honey bee's, only power and money, very sorry for that.

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