Why Are Bees Disappearing?

Next time you’re stung by a bee you might wanna squash the urge to fight back. There are not many of those hardworking fellers remaining.

1 out of 3 meals eaten by us is made possible because of honey bees! No wonder they have their own emoji Honeybee on Apple iOS 10.3. Believe it or not, their contribution to the world economy is hundreds of billions of dollars.

BUT BEES ARE DISAPPEARING…..

Needless to mention that if bees die out, thousands of plants dependent on them for their pollination will follow and this would result in millions of us starving.

Millions of honeybee hives have died out in the past few years. Bee keepers around the globe have recorded anywhere from 30-90% decline in their bee colonies. The number of beehives have gone down from 5 million in 1988 to 2.5 million today. Since 2006 a term coined “colony collapse disorder” has been popularized, which explains the mysterious phenomenon of millions of bee colonies disappearing across the globe. No one knows the exact cause of colony collapse disorder but there are few clear culprits.

Parasites: Bees have some serious foes in two particular parasites which threaten their very existence, Acarapis woodi and Varroa destructor.

Let’s start with Acarapis woodi. These are mites which lay eggs in bee’s trachea (food pipe). Once the eggs hatch (inside the bees) they feed on fluids in the bee’s food pipe, gradually weakening them and even causing death. Needless to say bees easily transmit this parasite to each other.

Varroa destructor is an even worse enemy. These mites can ONLY reproduce in beehives. Female Varroa destructors enter the honeycomb cell where ¬†the bee’s larvae rest, there the mites lay their eggs. The mite’s eggs hatch and the young mites and the mother feed on the larva, weakening it BUT not killing it. This is important because they need the bee to come out of the larva and then remove the wax on the closed honeycomb cell. Once the young bee accomplishes that, the mites escape the honeycomb cell only to enter other cells and repeat this process all over again. This process continues as the mite’s load on that hive grows exponentially ultimately collapsing the entire hive.

Although pretty dangerous, these parasites are not enough to explain the massive numbers of bee deaths. So what else is causing it?

Us/Insecticides: There is a particular class of insecticides very popularly used by us humans called Neonicotinoids. Globally this class of insecticides have a 1.5 billion euro market and account for a whopping quarter of all insecticide sales. In US alone they are sprayed on particularly any crop imaginable, apples, corn, cherries, tomatoes, grapes, potatoes, you name it.

Neonicotinoids harm the bee nervous system. High doses can result in bees experiencing convulsions and cause death whereas low doses make them forgetful. Bees exposed to neonicotinoids often forget how to navigate to and from their hives and die separated from their hives. Even though the use of neonicotinoids has caused a massive decline in bee population, their use is still rampant. What we need is an alternative insecticide. Interestingly studies from chemical companies have shown that neonicotinoids have almost no toxic effects on bees which is NOT TRUE. Several independent research groups have invalidated those findings.

What we need to do is to do urge policy makers to stop the use and distribution of harmful insecticides so at least the human component of harm to the bees can reduce. At the end it’s not just about the bees survival but also about ours, if we wanna continue living with the diversity of food that we are used to.

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