Dandelions deserve a gold medal. One of the first links in that magical chain of events bringing dinner to our tables, this sunny flower is one of the first spring foods for bees. If bees survive the winter, they look to dandelions and other wildflowers for nutrition — so they can begin the work of pollinating our fruits and vegetables. As you know, the bees are in a pickle right now. Their population is dwindling. Let’s not kill off anything that helps the bees!
Outlawing a type of insecticides is not a panacea.]
As we’ve written before, the mysterious mass die-off of honey bees that pollinate $30 billion worth of crops in the US has so decimated America’s apis mellifera population that one bad winter could leave fields fallow. Now, a new study has pinpointed some of the probable causes of bee deaths and the rather scary results show that averting beemageddon will be much more difficult than previously thought.
Scientists had struggled to find the trigger for so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that has wiped out an estimated 10 million beehives, worth $2 billion, over the past six years. Suspects have included pesticides, disease-bearing parasites and poor nutrition. But in a first-of-its-kind study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists at the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture have identified a brew of pesticides and fungicides contaminating pollen that bees collect to feed their hives. The findings break new ground on why large numbers of bees are dying though they do not identify the specific cause of CCD, where an entire beehive dies at once.
When researchers collected pollen from hives on the east coast pollinating cranberry, watermelon and other crops and fed it to healthy bees, those bees showed a significant decline in their ability to resist infection by a parasite called Nosema ceranae. The parasite has been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder though scientists took pains to point out that their findings do not directly link the pesticides to CCD. The pollen was contaminated on average with nine different pesticides and fungicides though scientists discovered 21 agricultural chemicals in one sample. Scientists identified eight ag chemicals associated with increased risk of infection by the parasite.
Most disturbing, bees that ate pollen contaminated with fungicides were three times as likely to be infected by the parasite. Widely used, fungicides had been thought to be harmless for bees as they’re designed to kill fungus, not insects, on crops like apples.
“There’s growing evidence that fungicides may be affecting the bees on their own and I think what it highlights is a need to reassess how we label these agricultural chemicals,” Dennis vanEngelsdorp, the study’s lead author, told Quartz.
Street artist Louis Masai Michel is on a one-man mission to raise awareness of the plight of the humble honey bee through his Save the Bees mural project . The murals began shortly after Michel returned from a
trip to South Africa where he was painting endagered animals, when he
began to learn about about bees and the grave implications of colony collapse disorder.
He immediately set out to paint a series of murals incorporating bees
on walls around London in May of last year, but the endeavor proved
wildly popular and has since spread to Bristol, Devon, Glastonbury,
Croatia, New York, Miami, and New Orleans. Michel is currently taking a break from bees to open a show of unrelated artwork at Lollipop Gallery later next month, but plans are in the making for a phase two sometime next year. You can see more of his bee work in this gallery.
We learned about this Michel’s #SavetheBees work through a collaboration between Sony’s #FutureofCities project and photographer Abbie Trayler-Smith who has been documenting urban beekeeping in London. You can read a short interview with her here.
I made some of the highlights from my new e-book into an infographic (if you’re having trouble seeing the image above, you might be able to view it better on imgur - tumblr just seems to make it blurry).
Sam Droege tracks bees for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). This work has become vital as bee populations have declined due to colony collapse. The work of Sam Droege and his colleagues has produced these extraordinary pictures of bees and other insects. Far from being fearsome these bees and insects become magical when viewed so close. They shine and shimmer, revealing delicate limbs and antennae. Sam Droege explains that,
Once you blow [the bees] up to the size of a German shepherd and they have good hair, people start paying attention,” he says. “They’re like aliens from another world.VIA
If you care about what you’re going to eat in the future, you’d better start caring about bees. Scientists have known for a while that the world’s honey bee population is declining and it’s a giant problem because they’re a vital part of the ecosystem—about one third of the food that goes into our mouths relies on the pollination process.
The decline is thought to be related to the Varroa destructor (a parasitic mite), which seems to be a contributor to a wider phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, where bee colonies spiral into abrupt decline and simply disappear.
Interestingly, Australia is free from these threats so far, and researchers want to find out why. In Tasmania’s capital, Hobart, researchers from the CSIRO recently fitted tiny sensors to the backs of 5,000 wild bees to monitor the population. To do this, they refrigerated the bees to make them sleepy, shaved a little part of their back, and quickly glued down the sensors before releasing them back into the wild.
The sensors only weigh five milligrams so they don’t impede the bees at all. ‘The bee can carry a lot of weight in pollen, in nectar, so this is like someone carrying a small backpack,’ explains Dr de Souza, CSIRO scientist. The sensors will provide vital data to help researchers construct a three dimensional model of the bees’ behaviour. As de Souza notes, ‘Using this technology, we aim to understand the bee’s relationship with its environment,’ and thus understand how they work best and what might cause a population collapse.
In the near future, the CSIRO hopes to scale the sensors down to 1 mm, so they can tag smaller insects like mosquitoes and fruit flies to study their populations too.
The work of Ottawa-based artist Sarah Hatton is a strong political piece, specifically raising awareness of the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) happening to honey populations worldwide. Early this year in Chelsea, Quebec, two whole hives fill of bees died from frostbite. The artist jumped at the chance to not let these bee deaths be in vain. Using thousands, yes thousands, of the dead bees, the artist creates geometric patterns, at times almost crop circle-esque, to display the enormity of the issue of CCD.
A single honeybee weighs almost nothing, but a whole hive might be worth more than its weight in gold. These little buzzers contribute billions of dollars worth of farming assistance every year, pollinating more than two-thirds of the fruits, veggies, and nuts we eat. Almonds, for instance, everyone’s favorite snack nut and non-dairy milk alternative, are completely dependent on domesticated honey bee pollination. No bees, no expensive smoothies, people!
Bees, both domesticated and wild, are dying off at alarming numbers, and the reasons aren’t totally understood. Pesticides? Habitat? Disease? Climate change? All of the above?
This week on It’s Okay To Be Smart, we (honey)comb through the science, find some intere-sting stuff, and wax poetic about the importance of our bee-youtiful little friends.
One solution? Plant flowers! In Marla Spivak’s TED Talk Why bees are disappearing, she reminds us that when bees have access to good nutrition, we have access to good nutrition through their pollination services.
Wild bees are good for crops, but are crops bad for bees?
Without honeybees, our grocery stores and dinner tables would be pretty barren.
Monoculture farming — growing a single crop in a field — increasingly depends on importing thousands of hives (by truck, usually) to pollinate crops.
Focusing on a single crop creates a very simplified diet for these pollinators. It’s also risky to rely on only one species of pollinators (honeybees) to do the job — especially when it has a number of health issues, including colony collapse disorder.
Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist at UC Berkeley, explains why we should start using native pollinators (birds, moths, wild bees) as part of a more sustainable farming practice.
Hey pyrrhic! I've seen a post about saving the bees by boycotting GMOs going around, and I was wondering if there was any evidence for it? The post didn't give any, and I'm hesitant to believe tumblr about anything.
That wasn’t for you, anon. In fact, props to you for flagging this one for further research. That was for the people propagating these ridiculous rumors about GMOs.
The crusade against GMOs (genetically modified crops) is basically agriculture’s version of the anti-vaccination movement. People don’t understand GMOs: therefore they are scary, and SURELY responsible for the death of our bees. Because science is involved, and goodness knows we can’t trust science.
Your first clue that this is absolute nonsense should come when you Google “Are GMOs causing Colony Collapse Disorder?” (CCD is the proper name for what’s happening to the bees.) The top results come from sites like “GMOEvidence.com,” “OrganicConsumers.com,” “NaturalNews.com,” and so on and so forth. This is like if you Googled “Will gay marriage cause the downfall of society?” and all of the top results came from conservative think tanks. The organic food industry makes a lot of money by getting people to pay through the nose for “natural” crops which contain “no chemicals,” as if either of those things actually means anything.
The truth is that we have always engineered our crops. For THOUSANDS OF YEARS, we have done our best to breed our crops to be hardier, more resistant to parasites, tougher in conditions of drought or frost, and more succulent and tasty. Now, we can do it in a test tube instead of in the field, and we can do it faster and better than ever before. That’s it. That’s the difference.
Do you guys remember when artificial insemination was treated like an unholy abomination, and people seriously debated whether children conceived in such a fashion would even have souls? Man, probably not, everybody on this site is like 15. Whatever. That was a thing. And it was like this thing. People say that GMOs aren’t “natural,” as if anything about agriculture is.
So, just to get this out of the way: there is absolutely no evidence that GMOs are linked to bee death. None. Zero. There’s some “correlation does not imply causation” business like you can find among the anti-vaccers, and a lot of hollering and alarm ringing. The anti-GMO movement’s most vocal leader is a man named Jeffrey Smith, who—I mention this just to give you a sense of context—also claims to be a practitioner of “yogic flying.”
What is causing Colony Collapse Disorder? Probably no one thing. Colony relocation, unusual weather conditions in 2011-2012, fungicide use, cyclical disease, and the diminishing contributions of wild bees as their habitats are reduced are all likely contributors. But having sex with our black magic devil crops is not the problem.
GMOs are incredibly promising, and we need them to feed our growing world population. Don’t listen to the fearmongering. And if you’re still suspicious of GMOs, read academic, peer-reviewed research, not ridiculous Tumblr posts.
Big corporations and small, local beekeepers are LITERALLY THE SAME IN EVERY WAY.
Did u know that beekeepers SET FIRE to their bees EVERY WEEKEND??
If it weren’t for beekeerpers, colony collapse disorder wouldn’t have happened.
I saw a beekeeper kick a puppy once, WITH MY OWN TWO EYES.
I know more about bees and beekeeping than every beekeeper that ever lived because I’m a vegan and what I lack in protein I make up for in knowledge
Beekeepers take ALL of the bees winter supply of honey and leave them with absolutely NOTHING so they STARVE THEM TO DEATH
BEEKEEPING = CAPITALISM. DIRTY, EVIL CAPITALISM
(sidenote: if you’re vegan I honestly have nothing against you, but these are based on actual posts I’ve seen from vegan blogs on the subject of bees. And to the blogs that DO post things like this, I encourage you to do your research - and no, not just from sources that encourage your confirmation bias, but to actually challenge yourself with new information. Also calm down on the capslock a tad maybe. Shouting doesn’t help your argument.)