By: Tony Wang
For many of us, bees are annoying critters that do nothing but buzz around us and sting us with their acidic stingers. But the truth is, bees are an essential part of our environment. As a matter of fact, they are responsible for pollinating over thirty percent of our crops. Because of this, if there were to be a decline in the world’s bee population, us humans would face severe food shortages. However, this situation isn’t entirely hypothetical; it’s actually happening right now. Bee populations across the world have been declining for more than fourteen years at an alarming rate.
Beekeepers around the world have been expressing concern over this phenomenon since the very beginning. It all began in 2006, when beekeepers around the world began to notice a stunning drop in bee populations. According to Vice, “Between 2006 and 2007, beekeepers around the US began to report losses of 30 to 90 percent of their domestic hives. In many cases, more than half of the sickened colonies showed mysterious signs of mass worker bee disappearance—a symptom never before on this scale seen by apiculturists. Without its thousands of adult worker bees, a hive cannot sustain itself, and will inevitably die.” To make matters worse, this trend has shown no signs of slowing down. In fact, it’s actually gotten worse in recent years, with there being next to no bee hives left in the southern parts of the United States.
Of course, this raises the question: Why exactly are bee populations declining at such an alarming rate? Well, researchers have narrowed it down to four main reasons: the usage of pesticides, climate change, invasive species, and habitat destruction. The first and most dangerous cause is the usage of pesticides. The use of pesticides in global agriculture has increased exponentially ever since the end of World War II. These same pesticides also happen to be extremely toxic to bees. When a worker bee is exposed to a pesticide, such as neonicotinoid, it goes into severe shock and forgets its way home. This, of course, is fatal to the bee. Additionally, these deaths can add up very quickly, which can result in extraordinarily large numbers of deaths. Climate change, the second major cause of the world’s declining bee population, is equally as problematic. This is because bees can only survive in a very specific temperature range. More specifically, they survive best in temperatures around 45°F. However, the average temperature in the United States has risen to approximately 53°F, which makes it very difficult for most bees to survive. The third reason bee populations have been declining is the arrival of invasive species. Invasive species and parasites have been entering the United States and decimating native populations for years. The most recent case of this in the United States is the arrival of the Asian giant hornet, more commonly known as the murder hornet. These hornets are massive, and a single one can destroy an entire bee hive. The damage they cause is usually irreversible and can leave an everlasting impact on the bee population of an area. The fourth, and final, reason bee populations have been declining is the destruction of their habitats. Farming often destroys the crucial habitats that bees need to set up hives and colonies. This leads to the bees in the area not having a permanent home, which means that they are unable to nurture their queen bee. This inevitably leads to the death of the queen and the eventual collapse of the colony. Similarly to the previous point, the damage this can cause is often permanent.
Luckily, there are many things we can do to protect our bee populations! To make things even better, most of these things are simple lifestyle changes. One of the easiest things you can do to help your local bee population is to avoid using pesticides at all costs. Practically every pesticide is highly toxic to bees. If you use less pesticides, then bees will be more likely to pollinate your plants, which actually makes it a win-win situation! It is also a good idea to buy honey to support companies that protect bee populations and fund beekeepers. Another fantastic way to support bee populations is by planting a bee garden, which can provide bees with a safe habitat where they can set up hives. To start a bee garden, simply plant around a dozen plants that contain large quantities of pollen and nectar, such as elm and ragweed. The best part about bee gardens is that you don’t need a lot of space; you can even start them indoors, as long as you aren’t afraid of bees!
The extinction of bees is a massive global issue that could change life as we know it. The extinction of bees would not only uproot the ecological order of hundreds of ecosystems, but would also completely halt springtime pollination. Without springtime pollination, our food storages would drop at an exponential rate. This would inevitably lead to a worldwide famine. In fact, scientists estimate that the extinction of bees would lead to the extinction of humans in just a few hundred years.
Our survival depends on the health of our planet and the species that live on it. Unless we face this fact, we will continue to contribute to our own downfall. If we do not take drastic measures to save the bees, then our planet is doomed.
What Did You Learn?
1. How does the anatomy of a bee cause them to overheat?
Honey bees are infamous for being able to survive extremely cold winters. The main reason they are able to do so is that they are equipped with a thick coat of fur that traps their body heat. Additionally, when bees fly, their wings cause their entire bodies to vibrate, which also generates heat. Although these are both helpful adaptations for cold weather, in today’s warming world, these traits can be extremely harmful. In fact, millions of bees end up overheating and subsequently dying during the summer months.
2. How do invasive species harm native populations?
Invasive species come in all forms – plants, animals, and microbes – but they all share common traits: they are non-native; they are increasing in prevalence; and they negatively affect native species. One of the most threatening invasive species in the United States is the Asian giant hornet, which can easily decimate an entire colony of bees.