Why are All the Bees Vanishing?
By Tayler Jenkins
Over the past several years, beekeepers and scientists alike have been puzzling over a strange phenomenon in which entire colonies of bees all over Europe and North America inexplicably disappear from their hives, never to return. Most of the time, the bodies are nowhere to be found.
No matter how much we appreciate or despise bees, one thing’s for sure: We can’t live without them. Bees are major pollinators of the crops that we eat (one-third, actually), including apples, cucumbers, broccoli, almonds, avocados, carrots, pumpkins, onions, and more. No bees means no food.
Since bees are so vital to our food security, it’s no wonder scientists are desperately trying to determine the culprit of this issue, called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). What could possibly cause so many bees to just completely disappear? There is no shortage of theories: everything from GMOs to cell phone towers to aliens has been proposed. But what does the science say?
The most compelling finding I’ve come across traces CCD back to multiple factors, beginning with one interesting fact about bees: bees have naturally low immunity to diseases and chemicals. They are able to improve this immunity by eating honey or bee bread, the foods they make from pollen, which has detoxifying and immunizing compounds. Since many bees are fed supplements of sugar or corn syrup, they are lacking sufficient pollen in their diets to build their immunity. On top of that, they are being exposed to increased amounts of insecticides, particularly miticides, which are sprayed in hives to kill mites. Inadequate supply of food also means that bees are feeding on less nutritious options—in two strange cases, bees were found to be making red honey after feeding from a Maraschino cherry factory and another hives made blue honey after feeding on waste from an M&M factory. All of the above factors contribute to decreased immunity in bees, rendering them less equipped to handle pathogens and parasites.
Luckily, we aren’t worried that bees will go extinct—CCD is only happening to commercial hives, not wild bees. But what can we do to mitigate the losses and promote bee health? If you have a garden, plant something that bees love (here is a list of what bees pollinate). Additionally, support your local beekeeper and learn about his or her practices.
This is only a brief overview of an extremely complex, multi-faceted problem. If interested in more in-depth information about this compelling issue, I urge you to keep reading!
Sources (also great for further reading):
Tayler is an Arizona native living in Portland, OR. A self-proclaimed “real foodie,” has done extensive research on food systems and took a leading role in activism on her college campus to spread education and awareness about healthy, ethical food. In 2013, she spent a few months living on a permaculture farm in Nepal conducting research on conservation farming and local food system governance. Tayler received a BS in Sustainability from Arizona State University in 2015 and is the operations manager for Urban Farm U and editor of two newsletters: Urban Farm Lifestyle and The Permaculture Life. She intends to use these as a medium for sharing knowledge and generating interest in urban farming and sustainability. Tayler can be reached at Tayler@urbanfarm.org.