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Breakdown: Why bees are disappearing & need our help

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 5:36 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 20, 2021 at 1:46 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - In a previous Breakdown, we discussed why bees are important to the environment. But now let’s talk about the dangers they face and why they need our help.

Bees are disappearing.

They face many threats, from habitat loss to the use of toxic pesticides.

HABITAT LOSS

An increase in urban developments means that many of the areas bees once called home no longer exist. Wildflower meadows and other areas with abundant plants are in decline, meaning bees are losing an important food source.

Many of the threats to bees share parallels with the threats to trees and woodland, so saving bees goes hand-in-hand with saving trees.

AGRICULTURE PRACTICES

Another threat to our bees comes from agriculture practices and the use for toxic pesticides. While pesticides are designed to kill pests, due to their intense toxicity they are having an adverse effect on other insects too, including bees.

Neonicotinoids sprayed onto vegetation are absorbed by the plants, causing bees a great deal of harm because when a bee comes to pollinate that plant, it ends up ingesting this pesticide, seriously damage the bee’s central nervous system.

Neonicotinoids are not only a serious threat to honey bees, but also for a broad range of other animals, including bumble bees, butterflies, birds and even water insects.

Neonicotinoids: A serious threat for flower-hopping life-bringers and many more animals
Neonicotinoids: A serious threat for flower-hopping life-bringers and many more animals(Greenpeace.org)

CLIMATE CHANGE

Climate and weather are two different things. Climate changes causes more extreme weather events, which not only disrupts bees nesting behaviors, but it also alters the normal seasonal timings of flowers blooming later or earlier than expected.

PARASITES AND DISEASES

It is small and yet highly dangerous: the Varroa destructor mite is the most destructive enemy of the Western honey bee.

Varroa destructor literally means “destructive mite.”

These mites clings to the back of the honey bee, passing diseases and viruses to it and gradually draining bees of their strength.

Varroa destructor mites can cause honey bee colonies to collapse by spreading viruses and...
Varroa destructor mites can cause honey bee colonies to collapse by spreading viruses and feeding on the fat reserves of adults and larvae.(ScienceMag.org)

Without human intervention, a bee colony infested with mites will typically die off within three years. In addition to the threat posed by the Varroa mite itself, there is also the danger of secondary infection from various mite-vectored diseases, which have also become more widespread and additionally weaken the bee colonies.

Combating the mite is a difficult task for researchers. This is because – despite a number of promising ideas – they have not yet managed to develop simple and long-lasting treatments for fighting the bee parasite, nor have they yet managed to breed a Varroa-resistant strain of the Western honey bee.

The parasite has now spread to almost all parts of the world – except for Australia – and is a serious threat to bee health.

The Varroa mite is originally native to Asia, where it was first discovered on the island of...
The Varroa mite is originally native to Asia, where it was first discovered on the island of Java in Indonesia over 100 years ago. The mite initially preyed on the Asian honey bee (Apis cerana). But over thousands of years the bee successfully adapted its behavior to the parasite. The bees fend off the mites through their intensive cleaning habits in the hive, thus minimizing harm to the colony. When European settlers brought the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) to Asia, it also fell prey to the Varroa mite. Through these infested colonies the parasite was then introduced to Europe, where since the 1970s it has continued to spread. Recent genetic investigations have revealed that Varroa jacobsoni comprises 18 different genetic variants with two main groups: Varroa jacobsoni and Varroa destructor. Varroa destructor, the newly identified type, inflicts a great deal of harm in Europe, North America and elsewhere because the Western honey bee lacks sufficient defense mechanisms. Clearly, the equilibrium between Varroa destructor and the Western honey bee has not yet been established. The mite is now found in many areas of the world: it is common not only in China and Russia but also in Central Europe and North and South America. Even New Zealand and Hawaii reported cases of infestation in the first decade of the 21st century. Australia is the only part of the world where the mite has not yet spread, mainly as a result of intensive biosafety protocols at the borders.(The Bayer Bee Care Program)

INVASIVE SPECIES

Other insects also pose a huge threat to bees. In particular, the Asian hornet, a species not native to the United States, are the world’s largest hornet and a predator of honey bees and other insects. A small group of Asian giant hornets can kill an entire honey bee hive in a matter of hours.

The hornets then occupy the hive, kill the developing larvae and take this protein-rich meal to their nest.

In addition to the threat to bees and beekeepers, this large venomous insect (1.5 to 2 inches in length—or the size of your thumb) can deliver a powerful sting. Its venom is no more toxic than that of other stinging insects, but in Japan, this hornet kills 30 to 50 people a year.

What to do if you think you have spotted the Asian giant hornet:

In addition to the threat to bees and beekeepers, this large venomous insect (1.5 to 2 inches...
In addition to the threat to bees and beekeepers, this large venomous insect (1.5 to 2 inches in length—or the size of your thumb) can deliver a powerful sting.(Texas A&M)

WHAT HAPPENS IF BEES DISAPPEAR?

If these threats aren’t brought under control, we could be looking at a future without bees.

If bees vanish, the effects will be catastrophic. Make no mistake, the end of the bees means the end of us. A 2019 study on the decline of entomofauna indicates that the loss of insects would collapse the Earth’s ecosystems. Plants would no longer be pollinated and this includes many of the fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains that we rely on to feed our ever-increasing population.

HOW TO HELP BEES

There are lots of things you can do to help protect these important creatures - most of which can be done from the comfort of your own garden.

  1. Fill your garden with bee-friendly flowers
  2. Provide shelter for bees. Like most invertebrates, bees need shelter to nest and hibernate in. You can create your own shelter or buy a ready-made bee hotel – just hang it up in a sunny sheltered spot in your garden and watch bees filling the tubes during the spring and summer months.
  3. Go chemical-free for bees. Avoid treating your garden and green spaces with synthetics. Instead, use organic products and natural solutions such compost to aid soil health and adding beneficial insects that keep pests away like ladybugs and praying mantises.

Here are a few other easy ways you can help #BeeTheSolution.

SAVE THE DATE!

Since 2009, Americans have celebrated National Honey Bee Day on the third Saturday in August. Let’s take this opportunity to celebrate honey bees this August 21 and recognize their contribution to our everyday lives as a means of protecting this critical species for future generations.

Read on to discover everything you need to know about this day, as well as the critical role that honey bees play in our everyday lives.

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