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Destiny of the Bumblebee

Updated on October 20, 2016

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would only survive for four years. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man." - Albert Einstein

Bumblebees are fascinating and beautiful creatures and they are in desperate need of our attention, protection and preservation. Ecological and economic ramifications are impending if swift restoration is not made to halt their decline.

Bumblebees are major pollinators of a vast majority of our flora. If bumblebees continue to disappear, certain plants will “set” less seed, resulting in gradual but sweeping changes to portions of the environment, particularly crop fields that provide us with much of our vital food supply. Some portions of the environment may ultimately become dominated by an entirely different suite of plants that do not require bumblebee pollination. These changes are having catastrophic effects on wildlife dependent on these plants. As such, the bumblebee is a keystone species and is therefore a conservation priority.

Almonds are the first big bloom of the season and the first test of honeybee health in California. If bees are busy in almond orchards, it’s usually a good sign that they will move on to other crops that require pollination as well. If bees are not in almond orchards, they're not going to be available to pollinate apple, pear and vine crops: the fruits and vegetables humans need to thrive on a healthy diet.

What is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) hit bee keepers in more than half the country. Now it has spread to all but a handful of states.

Hives can go from healthy and active to dead and gone. Theories are that what's bugging the bees may range from mites, viruses and pesticides to poor nutrition or a combination.

Like the chicken and the egg, it’s unclear as to which came first – plant loss due to a bee shortage or the other way around. The two may be locked in a vicious cycle in which each is adversely affecting the other.

To find the cause of CCD, a team of Israeli scientists mashed up honeybees from stricken hives alongside bees from healthy hives. Using a new method called Met genomics - the study of genetic material recovered directly from environmentalsamples, they searched the honeybee “purée” for the DNA of parasites. The fruits of their research revealed a particular virus in 25 of 30 sick colonies. Only 1 out of 21 healthy hives had this virus.

The virus, known as Israeli Acute Paralytic Virus (IAPV), was already known to make bees sick, with colonies in several countries already hit with the virus. But only until recently have bees in the U.S been stricken. Scientists believe one of the host or carrier countries is Australia. They suggested that it might be no coincidence that when, in 2004, U.S. beekeepers started importing Australian bees, the earliest reports of declining hives were reported, so scientists suggested that the virus arrived then.

While beekeepers are buzzing about “crop” loss and the financial dent in their hives, they are also letting us know that this crisis will affect all of us – our health, our environment and our wallets.

Bees are a vital element to the production of food. As an essential link in the food chain, the hardworking bee has suddenly become the weakest link.

Bumblebees are also of commercial importance, vital to the agricultural industry. Many arable and horticultural crops depend on honey and bumblebees for pollination to varying degrees. Raspberries are heavily dependent on bumblebees. Without them there would be little or no crop to harvest.

One California nut grower, who needs bees to pollinate his trees, lost 180 hives to thieves who very likely sold the hives for a great profit. The cost for 180 hives from a beekeeper is about $80,000. Resale on the black market is upwards of $100,000.

Researchers continue to turn out even more and more evidence of honey's medical benefits. Honey isn’t just delicious, soothing and sensual; it also offers incredible antiseptic, antioxidant and cleansing properties – a true head to toe remedy - from conjunctivitis of the eye to athlete’s foot. Honey’s powerful attributes have long been used for thousands of years and are known to promote healing for cuts, curing ailments and diseases and correcting some health disorders. It not only fights infection and aids tissue healing; it also helps reduce inflammation and scarring. Honey is used for treating digestive problems such as indigestion, stomach ulcers and gastroenteritis.

So important is this crisis that In Scotland, “sniffer dogs” are being utilized in a bid to save endangered bumblebees from extinction, roaming remote terrain in search of bee colonies.

In the U.S., bees are responsible for pollinating up to one-third of our food supply, yet they have been dying off in alarming numbers for almost two decades. With detrimental enemies such as parasitic mites, pesticides and urban development, bees are at a huge disadvantage in our modern, industrial world.

Because crops are so dependent on the work of bees, beekeeping has become big business, and maintaining effective hives has become a competitive sport.

Honeybees, even as they dwindle in number, are the most dependable source of pollination, carrying much of the burden to sustain our agricultural needs.

Honey bees pollinate more than 90 cultivated crops, including avocadoes, cucumbers, watermelons, citrus fruit and notably, almonds; California’s almond industry alone needs about half the country’s 2.5 million commercial hives for pollination every year. Honey bees are responsible for more than $20 billion in annual pollination value and one-third of the food we eat – vegetables, food oils and meat from animals that graze on pollinated forage.

Many groups will be affected by the decimation of the honey bee population. Farmers will feel the shortage because the bees will not be there to pollinate their crops. Growers of melons, cucumbers and other crop foods have reported a significant decrease in their yields and we all know what this does to food prices.

Hotels, supermarkets and restaurants will begin to feel the affects of this crisis as honey cooperatives will not be able to fulfill their production expectations.

Honey is man and earth’s oldest natural sweetener and the only food that does not spoil. Honey was found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs by archaeologists and scientists who tasted it and deemed it edible.

Given the significant importance of the honey bee, as demonstrated above, and in consideration of the honey’s proven health and beauty benefits, this busy creature is surely worthy of our protection, preservation and gratitude


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    • stacyvale profile imageAUTHOR

      Stacy Vale Karron 

      9 years ago from Fort Lauderdale. Florida

      Most people don't know how important Bumble and Honeybees are, and that these bees are not aggressive. Thankfully, colonies are making a comeback, though it is slow-going. I interviewed several beekeepers before and after publishing this article, and they have a method for increasing hive volume. They take a queen bee and use 50 worker bees instead of the usual 100. The bees have to work harder and the yield is not as great, but this is helping somewhat. The key is in maintaining healthy hives.

    • Brooke Lorren profile image

      Brooke Lorren 

      9 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      It's unfortunate that they haven't solved this problem yet.

    • gregas profile image

      Greg Schweizer 

      9 years ago from Corona, California.

      Hi Stacy, This was a very interesting and informative article. Keep up the good work. Greg


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