Bees have been long-time feared or disliked insects because of their painful stings when feeling threatened, but some (not all), like honey bees and bumble bees, lose their lives after they sting. It’s kind of sad, I think, because these bees are really rather useful insects that provide many benefits to humans. Honey bees pollinate 80 percent of flowering crops. Those crops constitute one-third of everything we eat. Without honey bees, we would not have apples, strawberries, nuts, broccoli, cucumbers, blueberries, and many other favorite foods. Oh yes, let’s also not forget honey. In addition, the beef and dairy industries would be affected because alfalfa crops would be threatened. Alfalfa is a main source of their feed. If none of the honey bees were to survive, our insect pollinated plants would not survive, potentially reducing mankind to little more than a water diet, or at least years ahead with shortages of these products at much higher prices.
So what about other bees? Yes, if other bees, like the bumble bee were to survive there would still be a pollinator around, but many plants rely on specific types of bees for pollination. But bumble bees’ fates are not that encouraging either. But now it is the honey bee that is the most valued bee, because it is the most numerous in the world.
So why am I so concerned about honey bees disappearing? Because their populations are in fact declining quickly. Generally beekeepers expect around 17 percent of their bees to die off annually, but in recent years, losses have been more than twice as high.
The biggest challenge in maintaining honey bee populations is probably Varroa destructor, a well described name for a parasitic mite one might coin the vampire of the bee world. This mite feeds on both adult and developing honey bee blood. It also suppresses their immune response. These mites are notably large relative to the honey bee, and honey bees may be attacked by multiple mites. Beekeepers try to control these mites with products, but they are also detrimental to the bees, so basically the poor honey bees are in a lose lose situation.
Another cause of honey bee decline is an affliction dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Scientists believe CCD was caused by a combination of environmental and biological factors, though that is yet to be proven. Other possible causes for honey bee decline include viruses, bacterial diseases, fungi, and pesticides.
So what can be done to save the populations of honey bees? People can make an effort to grow forage plants, especially ones that bloom at different times of the year. They can reduce the use of pesticides for gardening and landscaping. Also, support local beekeepers in buying their honey to encourage the continuation and extension of this noble practice.