Why Are The Bees Dying?

Why Are The Bees Dying?


[MUSIC] [MUSIC] A single honey bee weighs just a tenth of
a gram, but a beehive is worth more than its weight in gold. Crops pollinated by bees are worth $215 billion
worldwide, and they provide us with 75% of the fruits, veggies, and nuts we eat.
Their pollinating services are worth at least $24 billion to U.S. farmers, but that’s
probably an underestimate. Bees also pollinate the coffee plant. That
might be the most critical job on Earth. One could say that bees are the bee’s knees. To say that bees are important would be like
saying Beyonce is a pretty good singer. Incidentally, she has a bee-impersonating fly named after
her. When people talk about bee death, they’re
usually talking about the European honey bee. Cue the bee roll please.
This one species is basically a domesticated animal, just like cows, sheep, or chickens,
taken from the wild, put in a box, and used to harvest honey and pollinate crops. Each winter, it’s normal for a small fraction
of colonies to die off, but between 1947 and 2005 US beekeepers lost nearly half their
bees. By 2006 beekeepers were reporting losses as high as 90% and this honey bee apocalypse
was given a name: Colony Collapse Disorder. Talk about a buzz kill–
“Too soon!” A hive that falls victim to CCD is like a
ghost town: no adult worker bees, the honey and immature young left behind… it’s pretty
much just a lonely queen wandering around like her friends stranded her at a party. But honey bees’ wild, solo-living cousins
are in trouble too. It’s estimated that over the past 120 years,
as many as half of all wild bee species have gone extinct. Bee die-offs have been reported as far back
as 1868, but as far as we know they’ve never happened on this scale before. And we’re
not entirely sure what’s causing it. Pesticides are one of the likely culprits,
particularly a class of chemicals called neonicotinoids. Feeding on neonic-tainted food can be deadly
to bees, and even at nonlethal doses bees can lose the ability to communicate and forage. In some places, there’s just not as many
flowers as there used to be. Like humans, bees do best when they eat a balanced diet
from many different sources. Thanks to habitat loss, we’re giving them a buffet with just
a few choices, and it’s definitely not “all you can eat”. Just because they’re small doesn’t mean
bees can’t get sick. When a colony is weakened by pesticides or lack of food, they become
more vulnerable to viruses, parasites, and all kinds of other infections. Like these blood-sucking mites, which, judging
from their name I’m guessing are pretty bad. These bacteria can turn larvae into liquid.
And these parasites lay eggs inside the bees’ breathing tubes, suffocating them to death. Turns out some bees are naturally resistant
to some of these infections, so scientists are trying to breed entire colonies that can
fight off these microscopic horrors. According to a 2015 study in the journal Science,
it’s likely that instead of one culprit, bee declines are being driven by a perfect
storm of troubles: pesticides, habitat loss, and infections. But there are possible solutions, and all
of us can do our part. We can plant more flowers in more places,
reduce the use of pesticides, keep out invasive species, and take better care of our wild
bees. Most of all, we all need to keep an eye on
our relationship with nature, in the garden or in the grocery store. The Belgian writer
Maurice Maeterlinck wrote in 1901, “You will probably more than once have seen
her fluttering about the bushes, in a deserted corner of your garden, without realizing that
you were carelessly watching the venerable ancestor to whom we probably owe most of our
flowers and fruits, and possibly even our civilization.” As William Shakespeare once said, to bee or
not to bee. To bee. Stay curious.

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