Environmental Impact of Bees

To bee, or not to bee. That is the question.

Griffin Sonnemann-Creed, Columnist

The humble yellow and black bee is one of nature’s most famous creations. Despite their small size, bees are one of the most important hallmarks of the world’s environments. Diligently, every day, they pollinate the flowers and trees throughout the forests and prairies. In return, they take the nectar from the flowers and produce honey from it. This symbiotic relationship is what forms the basis of the world’s environment. However, this delicate balance is becoming more and more precarious by the day.

According to the Washington Post, bees have begun to die off at increasingly staggering rates. In Oregon, for example, over 25,000 dead bees were found in a single parking lot. In Brevard County, Florida, over 12 million bees died in a single year. And an even more shocking crisis happened in Canada, as 37 million bees died in a single beekeeping operation.

The unexplained deaths of these millions of bees has been given a name – colony collapse disorder. The disorder describes a strange phenomenon noticed by many beekeepers and environmental scientists. Thousands of worker bees will inexplicably flee a hive, leaving the queen to fend for herself. While there is no proven cause as of yet, scientists have come up with several theories to explain the bees’ erratic behavior.

Typically, most hobbyist beekeepers believe starvation is the reason for the bee crisis. As more and more food stocks are exhausted, the bees leave the hive and die, so that more is available for the queen. However, commercial beekeepers believe the evidence points toward a new, external threat – whether that be fungi, diseases, other bees, or mites. However, most evidence points towards a far more sinister answer.

While the causes listed are a significant factor in the bees’ disappearances and deaths, the primary culprit is pesticides used by farmers. The pesticides, classified as neonicotinoids, were initially believed to have minimal effects on insect populations, leading to their widespread usage. However, the pesticides are known to contaminate pollen and nectar, which can poison bees attempting to harvest it. According to the Texas A&M University, bees who are affected by the neonicotinoids are notably disorganized and experience memory loss, being unable to remember where they are relative to the hive, or even the hive’s actual location.

However, in spite of the bee crisis, due to efforts by scientists and beekeepers around the globe, the number of bees dying off have been drastically reduced. Despite this, many unique and wild bee species, which do not have outside help, are still in trouble. While the overall bee crisis may have been solved, it still has a major effect on those wild bees. So what can we do to help?

Organizations like The Honeybee Conservancy are dedicated to helping the bees. They have a program called Sponsor-a-Hive, which allows you to create your very own beehive in your community. Beehives are typically placed in locations near gardens, soup kitchens, schools, and low-income communities. As the bees help pollinate plants, this means that more food can be gathered by gardeners.

Another organization is Planet Bee, which is dedicated to helping spread knowledge about bees to students throughout the country. Programs like the ZomBee Watch Program allows for student to personally observe bee parasites and contribute their findings to international databases. Others, like the Humble Honey Bee Literacy Program, help students learn to read and present additional information about bees, such as their life cycles and their environmental impact. Through non-profit organizations like these, each and every one of us can help contribute to the efforts to save the bees once and for all.