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The Secret Death Of Bees

May 9th, 2013

Insect pollinating. Photo credit: HTE Kids’ News

You know that feeling of concern you get when a bee is buzzing around you?

It turns out we need to be much more concerned that there’s a lot less of them buzzing these days. Billions less.

This isn’t a problem just for the bees, it’s a big one for us too.

Did you know that about 1/3 of what’s on our plate at every meal is there … because of bees!

Less bees means less crops … which means less food for us. It also means a less healthy planet.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) came out with a big  report  addressing the seriousness of these issues earlier this week.

Over 250 billion bees have died in the last FOUR years alone. There are many different kinds of bees, we are mainly talking about honeybees.

There used to be 6 million honeybee colonies in the U.S. 60 years ago, now there are just 2.5 million, according to the USDA.

The official name for this is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

So, why are they dying? The troubling part is we don’t actually totally know. That makes it hard to save them.

What are some of the possible causes? What can we do to help? And what do bees have to do with broccoli, anyway?

Bees are about way more than making honey. They pollinate . When bees fly from flower-to-flower they transfer pollen from one flower to another. Plants need that to produce seeds so they can make new plants.

Wind is also a pollinator and so are a few other animals too, like bats, hummingbirds, and butterflies. But bees do most of the pollinating on the planet, writes Dr. Reese Halter in his book The Incomparable Honeybee . Amazingly, they don’t even mean to pollinate, they’re just out looking for food!

Bees pollinate over 100 crops!

Imagine a world without some of your favorites: watermelons, canteloupes, plums, avocados, lettuce, onions, raspberries, pumpkins, and broccoli. Cotton too — which your clothing and bed sheets are made from.

Cows, for example, also rely on bees to pollinate some of the food they eat, like alfalfa. So, some of our meat depends on bees, too. Even Starbucks and Haagen Dazs rely on bees to pollinate their coffee and ice cream ingredients, writes Dr. Halter in his book.

And that’s not to mention another bee by-product: beeswax. Beeswax is used in everything from candies, to cosmetics, to paint removers, to car polish … and of course, candles. So much more, too.  Dr. Halter calls beeswax “the silent partner in the daily lives of people.”

What’s happening to the bees?  In 2006, seemingly all of a sudden, farmers and bee keepers noticed that bees were just dying off — entire colonies of them. Their immune systems were malfunctioning, and they were disoriented or just dead. And it’s been happening ever since.

Why? Experts think it’s not just one thing but rather a combination of factors, including:

* climate change

* parasites and disease

* stress (among other stressors, a shortage of bees means that the ones that are left are trucked all over the country to help farmers pollinate their crops. And we all know what a long car trip is like. It also means they’re working extra hard.)

* pesticides

Five billion pounds of pesticides are used EACH year in the U.S. , according to the Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ). One especially alarming one is called neonicotinoids (pronounced: neo-nik-ah-ti-noid). This was banned in Europe just last month because they are having the same problems with their bees, and believe there might be a connection. The pesticide manufacturers , such as Bayer, say there isn’t one. They believe it has more to do with viruses. The USDA did a study and did not conclude that pesticides were the cause. It is possible, however, that they are all related.

The USDA is very concerned about the whole issue, concluding in their report  that, “Currently, the survivorship of honeybee colonies is too low for us to be confident in our ability to meet the pollination demands of U.S. agricultural crops.”

How can we help?  Just for starters you can:

* “bee” nice to bees. They die when they sting, so it’s not their first choice of activity, either.

* try to buy organic food

* try to buy local honey

* plant native wildflowers (click here for a guide)

* think twice before using pesticides

You can click here for some more “ beesources “.

And if you would like to “bee” amazed by what else bees can do ( did you know they can count? dance? vote?! ) we recommend Dr. Halter’s book The Incomparable Honeybee .

Bees are much more important than we give them credit for, and they’re incredibly cool, too.

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