A few summers ago, the wooded subdivision where I grew up was hit by straight-line winds. The storm changed the landscape I had grown to know and love. Most were majestic oaks and hickories who’s trunks spoke with maturity and grandness. Seeing the trees was truly a sad sight.
As we began the clean-up, crews of tree services swarmed the neighborhood. My mom’s next door neighbor was lucky enough to lose an untouchable grand oak due to its residents. The trunk contained thousands if not hundreds of thousands of bees. Fortunately, the neighbor’s son is a bee keeper and we had a chance at a make-shift Bee 101 lesson. With the use of smoke, we were able to examine the hive which spanned 10 to 15 ft. Unfortunately, he was never able to locate the Queen which is needed for a successful transplant to a new home. I did learn that bees are beautiful creatures. From that experience on, I’ve been fascinated and dreaming to become a bee keeper. I haven’t quite talked my hubby into appreciating the same dream, but I’m working on it.
When I was invited to visit Bayer Crop Science in June, their new Bee Center was at the top of my list. With all of the headlines regarding the decline in bee populations, it was refreshing to know that a company such as Bayer CropScience concerned and taking action. We began our tour by viewing a layer or sheet of a hive. We learned about the different roles each type of bee holds within the colony. And, we Periscoped it!
We then moved inside where we met Dr. Becky Langer, who blew my mind. She affirmed the fact that the media is writing what sells and frankly, positive stories about bees aren’t quite as exciting as a headline such as “Worst bee decline ever.” In fact, there have been worse declines in the 1880’s, 1920’s and 1960’s. Each situation often followed severe weather conditions, although it is not clear if this was the cause of the most recent declines. To better understand the history of bee ‘epidemics’, I’ll outline what I learned.
1990s – 2004
Beginning in mid 1991, the U.S. began seeing the first decline of honeybee colonies since the 1960s. The epidemic was first elevated in the headlines during 2004 when the almond fields of California experienced a 60% casualty rate. Within the theories, many believed the decreased to be linked to ‘vampire mites’ or Varroa Mites which feed on bodily fluids in bees. Recent studies suggest that the early change in populations was caused by mites transporting or host shifting tobacco ringspot virus (TRSV) which attacks the nervous system, not pesticides.
2006 Colony Collapse Disorder
In 2006, it appeared that bee deaths were again increasing and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was coined. In CCD, all worker bees within colonies were mysteriously disappearing without a trace. Scientists and beekeepers alike found very little evidence including no bodies. Soon after in 2008, a new form of CCD hit headlines as the “beepocalypse,” which will cause food shortages. This form of CCD was an unexplained decline of bees occurring during winter months. In an average year, bee populations tend to decrease 10-15%. However, bee declines were hitting nearly 35%. As speculation soared, suggestions of causes ranged from genetically modified crops (even though GM crops were first introduced in 1996 and there has not been one study which links GM crops to bee declines) to today’s theory of neonics (neonicotinoids pesticides).
Today – Neonics and the reality of bee populations
Critics continue to point fingers as neonics, which were introduced as a safer alternative to more dangerous pesticides such as organophosphates and pyrethroid. However, even as the finger pointing continues, we rarely hear of the reality behind bee colony populations. In fact, colony populations in North America have been stable at approximately 2.5 million for several years and have even spiked in 2010 and 2012. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the number of beehives worldwide has been on an incline. As researchers continue to test and evaluate, they are becoming more skeptical on the possibly linkage of past declines to neonics. The U.S. Agriculture Department and the EPA collaborated on a study in 2012 which concluded there is a possibility neoncis could have been a contributor however, they are low on the long list of possible causes.
How can you help strengthen honeybee populations?
In April of 2014, the Bayer Bee Care center became a reality. Their goals are to foster bee health research, education and stewardship. In March of 2015, they launched the FeedABee.com campaign in response to visitors asking how they can help improve bee health and populations. Within the first two weeks, the campaign met over half of the year-long goal to plant 50 million flowers. By the end of April 2015, the center hosted over 3,000 visitors with over 2,500 commitments to plant bee-attractant plants. You can follow suit to continue this effort by planting flowers such as geraniums, goat willow, forsythia, mahonia bealei, okame cherry and yoshino cherry trees. Even on a small scale home gardeners can provide additional pollen and nectar sources for bees by growing bee-attractant mixes in areas as small as a patio or porch flower pot.
Need more help?
Here are some additional resources which can help:
- Pollinator guide
*This was not a paid opportunity. Opinions are my own.
Resources: USDA NASS Honey Production Report 2012; Forbes Op/Ed by Jon Entine Bee Deaths Reversal: As Evidence Points Away From Neonics As Driver, Pressure Builds to Rethink Ban