Why We Need Bees

honey-bee

Bee-Friendly and Save the Honey Bee.

When beekeepers suit up to check their apiary and hives there’s a haunting realization of changing times. As each frame is removed from the hive and inspected there is only one sad conclusion, their honey bees are vanishing. Leaving the once flourishing hives sparse and with empty frames. Alberta Einstein said “if the honey bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” Although, Einstein’s hypotheses weren’t always right the question still stands, is this statement that far from the truth?

The phenomenon called colony collapse disorder or CCD has been killing off the honey bee population in North America for the last several years, significantly affecting agricultural economics with massive honey bee shortages.

Nearly one third of all fruits and vegetables that are commonly consumed are pollinated by the honey bee. Without the honey bee crops such as grapes, broccoli, sunflowers, almonds, strawberries, raspberries and carrots will continue to die.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has estimated that the value of honeybee pollination in Canada is more than $1billion a year.

The main symptom of CCD is a honey bee hive that is almost or completely vacant of worker bees, but still has a queen and premature bees. Leaving the hive is unnatural for the honey bee, as they are very social insects. Furthermore, there are no dead bees around the hive.

First reports of the massive honey bee loss appeared in the Eastern United States in 2006. Since then the honey bee population has been on a rapid decline across Canada and the US.

Catherine Culley, president of Capital Region Beekeepers Association in Victoria said, “generally, the loss of native pollinators could be the real disaster because we don’t know how to get them back once we have lost them.”

According to Culley, Vancouver Island has been sheltered from the rest of North America’s CCD problem, due to lack of large industrial agriculture which introduces pesticides and chemicals such as neonictinoids to the local honey bee population.

The Vancouver Island honey bee is facing different challenges, “not in a massive industrial agricultural scale, but recently growers have begun  using [pesticides] in domestic flower and vegetable bedding plants, which is becoming an urban problem which must be stopped.” said Culley.

Two types of insecticides, Merit and Intercept, have been recently approved in Canada for bedding plants and horticultural use that contain neonicotinoids.

Ingestion of the nectar and pollen of plants containing neonicotinoids can harm domesticated and wild pollinators at a sub-lethal level. This makes Vancouver Island honey bees more susceptible to disease, while reducing their cognitive abilities to forage and find their way home.

Culley said, “the public has a right to know if the plants they are buying [advertised as “bee-friendly”] contain neonicotinoids in their pollen and nectar”.

Pesticides are not the only problem affecting the Vancouver Island honey bee. Various types of mites attach themselves to honey bees and harm their immune system by sucking hemolymph, a fluid found in the circulatory system of arthropods.

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Varror mite attached to honey bee.

 

Culley said, “we have many bee diseases and parasites, which are widespread and they take their toll. When the Varror mite first came to Vancouver Island [in 1997] there was a disastrous loss of bees but beekeepers are coping with it now”.

Pollination Canada says, “scientists have mapped the honeybee genome and found that the bee does not have a high amount of genes that effectively fight off disease. Entomologist May Berenbaum said that a fruit fly or mosquito has twice the number of toxin fighting genes in their bodies. This suggests that the honeybee is therefore more vulnerable to disease and toxins”.

Another concern for the Canadian honeybee is the pressure from large beekeeping facilities to import honeybee packages from the United States, where migratory beekeeping (trucking) is done on a huge scale with little regulation and inspection. If the Canadian federal government lifted the ban additional problems such as viruses and disease would also be imported.

To help the honey bee individuals can plant bee friendly flowers that do not contain insecticides. To do so, contact local nurseries and ask about their bee friendly flowers and bedding plants. Gardeners can attract bees to their garden to enhance pollination and productivity by planting bee-friendly roses, fox gloves, lavender, sea holly and chives.

Honey bees are more attracted to bright white, blue and yellow flowers that have a fresh aroma with a tubular shape or a landing platform. Fresh water sources that are shallow and slanted should be provided for drinking and bathing opportunities for garden pollinators.

-River

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