Phenomenon: An occurrence with noticeable affects, which can be negative or positive, that holds a large air of mystery behind its cause.
Abscond: To leave or disappear without a trace.
Neonicotinoid: A branch of nicotine-based pesticides that affect the insect's nervous system causing paralysis and eventual death.
Entomologist: A scientist who's studies specialize in the lives and ecology of insects.
Brood: A large group of young or baby animals, such as bee larvae.
Horticulturist: A scientist who's studies specialize in the cultivation of plants and their respective biology.
What is Colony Collapse Disorder?
Colony Collapse Disorder, a large occurrence affecting bees very poorly, targets bees of all kinds throughout the world, which is lowering their population. Robbie Shell, author of Bees on the Roof, says, “Colony Collapse Disorder is a phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony (hive) disappear, leaving behind a queen, food, nurse bees and baby bees.” Bees affected by Colony Collapse Disorder mysteriously abscond from their hive; the bees leave no corpses near the hive indicating death, they just leave. This phenomenon has had a huge, lasting effect on the bee population, which doesn’t seem to have any specific cause. Susan Bird, and environmental attorney, says, “At least a third of all bee colonies in the U.S. have succumbed.” Colony Collapse Disorder has taken out a very large chunk of the honey bee population, which negatively affects the economy and agriculture of the world. Although Colony Collapse Disorder appears as an entity of mystery with no sure cause, entomologists and beekeepers alike agree that the threat to honey bees has become more clear in recent years, and the easiest way to save them is helping the environment.
What kinds of flowers would be best to plant in a bee garden to help out the environment?
When planting a garden, planting more flowers is much more beneficial than planting less. Making sure you have a variety of flowers that bloom at different times of the year helps honey bees get pollen for more seasons, which can helps significantly for hives that lack large sources of pollen near them. A writer for The Honeybee Conservancy, Jonna Robins, says, “Plant at least three different types of flowers in your bee garden to ensure blooms through as many seasons as possible. This will provide bees and other pollinators with a constant source of food.” Although bees live off of honey in the cold winters, they need to spend a few seasons prior to it gathering pollen to be processed into honey. Another important trait to look for in flowers for a garden is the amount of pollen and nectar that the specific flower can provide. Jessie Keith, a horticulturist and plant biologist, says, “The best honey bee plants provide a good supply of both sugary nectar and protein-rich pollen sought by these and other long-tongues bees.” Flowers that provide the most pollen are best; therefore, plants with single flowers rather than many blooms are better because of the larger amount of pollen a single bloom can produce. Although it may seem that large problems such as Colony Collapse Disorder are too broad for one person to make any contributions to prevent, plant biologists believe that making bee gardens is beneficial to hives and the products they produce like honey or beeswax.
Does purchasing bee-made products such as honey and beeswax help out or hinder the bees more?
Buying bee-made products is an easy and simple way to assist bees and the beekeepers that tend to them. Umbra Fisk, a research associate at Grisk, says, “Not only is it OK for you to purchase such treats, but doing so selectively is a wonderful boon for beekeepers, especially the smaller ones struggling to stay abuzz in the business.” Beekeepers often struggle with competition or lower incomes; being selective about choosing products can support the beekeepers themselves. Producing and harvesting bee products does no harm to the bees as long as food is left to nourish working and growing bees. Bennett McEwan, a healthcare reform consultant and former beekeeper, says, “Harvesting honey doesn’t hurt the bees at all. The only harm comes from bees which sting you, which is rare. This kills honeybees. In a year I got stung maybe four or five times, working with them for many hours a week.” The development of honey has very rare negative effects on honey bee health, which means buying honey does no harm to them; it supports the beekeeper without hurting the bees. When purchasing bee products, buying locally is supportive of beekeepers trying to take care of their own bees; the only relatively prominent side effect is the pests which target bees.
What sort of pests are bees dying from?
A plethora of pests are killing off singular or entire hives of bees, but an especially dangerous invader is the Varroa mite. Ric Bessin, an entomologist from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, says, “By the time the adult bee emerges from the cell, several mites will have become adults, mated, and are ready to begin searching for other bees or larvae to parasitize.” When these Varroa mites spread, they latch to honeybees and extract fluids from the bee’s body, which leaves them weakened and performing poorly. Another pest which hinders the lives of many honeybees is the dreaded wax moth, a moth that invades hives in large hordes. Jennie Stitzinger, a member of the University of Maryland Diagnostic team, says, “A female wax moth can produce up to 300 eggs and while not all will hatch, it is easy to see how a wax moth issue can quickly grow out of hand.” Both lesser and greater wax moths feed themselves with the beeswax produced in hives or colonies of bees, which can hurt the development of honey bee larvae if the wax was taken from a cell in which the brood was growing in. Although honey bees are often docile when left alone, they still have natural predators which can hinder both performance and development of targeted hives if not dealt with by beekeepers.
Are advances being made in case bees are to go extinct?
Currently, engineers and chemist students have collaborated making specialized robot pollinators that have shown relative success in trials. “With a bit of practice, the device could pick up 41% of the pollen available within three landings and successfully pollinated the flower in 53 out of 100 attempts,” says Elizabeth Franklin, a demonstrator in biosciences and a writer for The Conversation. Although the number seems small, 41% success in a still developing project is good progress; in the future, it could be sent out on farms and assist in pollination if other pollinators such as bees were unable. Many scientists put faith into the micro-sized robot pollinators and will stand by them, saying that they’ll be a viable means of pollination in the future. Eijiro Miyako, a chemist from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, says, “We believe that robotic pollinators could be trained to learn pollination paths using global positioning systems and artificial intelligence.” With constantly advancing technology, and the wide research going into robotics, making mechanical pollinators is a realistic idea, which is already being pursued by groups of scientists in the case of honey bee populations getting too low. Robotic pollinators are an advancement that could very realistically be released into the wild in the future, preventing food sources and agriculture from suffering a lack of pollination.