Written by Hannah Arios, ESLLC 2015-2016
Since the 1980s, the honeybee population has declined. The major cause of this decrease is colony collapse disorder, or CCD. According to the EPA, CCD is the event where the majority of worker honeybees disappear, leaving a live queen, the larvae, a few nursing bees to care for the younger bees, and plenty of food. Also according to the EPA, this problem garnered attention in 2006-2007 when beekeepers reported a higher than average loss of bee lives in the winter. According to these keepers, they lost about 30-90% of the bees. Without the majority of the worker bees, colonies can’t sustain themselves and will eventually die off. Losing bees during winter is common, but not at these percentages.
There is a difference between a large loss of bee life and CCD. With CCD, there are usually only a few dead bees around the area. Certain pesticides are harmful to bees. If a colony suffers from pesticide poisoning, then that colony will have a large amount of dead bees surrounding the colony.
Scientists still don’t understand why CCD is happening to bees. There are some theories that have been discussed, but nothing concrete has been decided upon in the scientific community. According to the EPA, a possible cause of CCD could be an increase in the population of the varroa mite, a honeybee pest. According to the University of Kentucky, varroa mites are parasites that attack adult honeybees. These mites attach to adult honeybees and also immature bees. Then they suck the blood of the bees, weakening and shortening their life span. Untreated infestations of the parasite will lead to the death of the colony, as the mites’ population grows, and they continue to shorten the lives of the younger bees.
Another theory is a change in the habitat where the bees reside. This could mean deforestation tactics that contain the bees’ hive or something similar.
However, these theories don’t take into consideration that bees are very protective of their queen. It wouldn’t make sense for the entire colony to leave their queen and the young to die off, while the other worker bees found a new colony. There’s a hierarchy in place, and the queen is the most important bee in the hive. She’s the one who gives birth to all the new bees and essentially keeps the population growing.
So what does this mean for us? Bees are one of the most important pollinators. They pollinate our agriculture. There are other insects that help to spread pollen for the plants to germinate, but bees do the majority of the work. If America’s bee population decreases to the point that our crops aren’t getting pollinated, we’ll have a major food crisis on our hands and we’ll have to figure out how to manually pollinate. If bees become extinct, other pollinators, like butterflies and bats, will continue to pollinate, but their populations aren’t big enough to sustain all of America’s crops.
We need to help save the bees. Not only are they a large part of the ecosystem, but they are an integral part of the pollination process. A tactic to help the bee population is to plant bee friendly plants, like dandelions and sunflowers. These flowers will provide enough nectar for the bees to feed and sustain themselves.