As many people are aware, there has been a steep decline in bee populations all across the world. The certain bee species populations in Hawaii are so low, that on Sept. 30 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that seven species found in Hawaii are now on the endangered species list. With seven species now dwindling down to extinction, there is increasing concern for the future of all bees and awareness of their importance.
The Hawaiian bee species becoming endangered is believed to be the first of many other species. “It wasn’t a surprise,” says John Hamblet, local beekeeper and Vice President of Merrimack Valley Beekeepers Association. “Honey bees have had a very difficult time over the last 20 years, and sooner or later, as a result of either climate change or [diseases and mites] that have been brought from overseas, something was gonna happen.”
Hamblet believes there are three forces that are making up for the majority of the bee population decline. The first being varroa mites, which are tiny mites that attach themselves to the bee’s joints on the exoskeleton. The mites inject viruses into the bees, but they are typically not harmful to the bee when attached. Where these mites become a driving force in population decline when the mites fall off the bee, they leave holes in the exoskeleton which leaves the bee exposed to all kinds of other viruses and diseases.
The second driving force in dropping bee populations is a virus called Nosema Cerrona, originally from Asia. This virus causes bees to die within eight days of contact. Typically not a problem, but, due to the holes left from the verroa mites, more and more bees have died.
The third and perhaps strongest contributor to the decline of bee population is a neuro-toxin used as a neuro-pesticide called neo-nicotinoids (neo-nics). “You take a kernel of corn, dip it in the neo-nic, and when it grows, it grows inside the plant,” said Hamblet. When the bees go to pollinate the corn or other plant, the poison comes into contact with the bees and they bring it back to the hive.
“Combine that. Now you’ve got poison in the hive, you’ve got holes in your body from the mites. It’s like taking a nicotine patch and putting it right on an open cut,” said Hamblet.
According to Hamblet, with all these contributing factors combined, it leads to the theory of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). This occurs when the majority of the worker bees fail to return to the hive. As a result, the queen as well as the other bees die. This can be due to several things, but Hamblet says that bees can only find their hives if they are in their exact location, but with a neo-nics affecting their brain function, many of them are unable to find their way back.
Hamblet said bees provide many benefits to how we live today. The utmost important benefit is pollination. Through pollination, bees are able to assist in the growth and spread of plants and are essential to their survival. Honey bees were brought over to America for the sole purpose of pollination.
“The number one benefit is one out of three things you eat is the result of a bee pollinating them,” says Hamblet. “[Bees] provide us food.” Products from the hive such as beeswax, propolis and honey are extremely beneficial to people as well. Honey has many purposes, including being used to treat and remove radiation scars, and many other benefits. “There are all sorts of really wonderful things about natural honey,” says Hamblet.
In regards to saving the bees, Hamblet has many tips to promote bee health and population. “Don’t use pesticides, find organic alternatives, plant bee-friendly plants. Bees need a variety of flowers (and the honey tastes better),”says Hamblet.
It is really hard to pinpoint the number one cause of bee depopulation. Although theorized that pesticides and neo-nics are a driving force, Bayer AG and other companies who produce neo-nics and pesticides have put thousands of dollars into supporting their claims that their products have any effect on bees. “They will deny to their last dying breath that neo-nicotinoids they create (synthetic nicotine) do anything harmful to bees,” says Hamblet, “France banned neo-nicotinoid usage last year, and in one year their bee population came back.”
Despite the popular conception that all bees are steadily decline to distinction, in recent polls over the last two years they have discovered that the number of bee populations and hives has actually gone up. Human intervention and the increased number of beekeepers appear to be a driving force in keeping the bees alive, however, wild bees are still declining due to the factors that are making survival very difficult.