By Vern and Lori Gieger
The Humble Honey Bee
My grandfather had great respect for the environment, and every creature in it. He did his best to impress upon us (his grandchildren) that there was a reason for every living thing, whether or not we understood it.
Given that my grandfather was also a bee keeper, I grew up enjoying fresh, pure honey, made candles from bee’s wax, and learned at a tender age sandals were not appropriate footwear near the hives!
Grandpa was a great story teller so as a youngster I wasn’t always sure if he was pulling my leg or not, but what I did know was, when it came to bees, listen to Grandpa. I recall one day when my brother had gotten stung several times, which by the way was his own fault. As he bitterly complained to Grandpa about the bees and how unnecessary he thought they were, Grandpa patted him on the head, smiled and said to him, “You want to eat don’t you?” Thanks to Grandpa we did learn how important bees really are.
A recent survey revealed that only a small percentage of the public understands the process of pollination or the diversity of beneficial animals involved in the process of pollinating plants. For most people, pollen means allergies and bees mean stings. However, for one out of every three bites you take, you should thank a bee, butterfly, bat, bird or other wildlife.
Pollination is an essential step in the production of most fruits and vegetables that we eat as well as regeneration of many feed crops used by livestock. The above mentioned, are required to pollinate the 100 or so crops that feed the world. We must recognize that pollination is not a free service, and that investment and stewardship are required to protect and sustain it.
The honey bee crisis in the United States has been escalating for several years. The honey bee crisis of 2005, which was blamed on the Varoa mite, decimated as much as 50% of honey bee populations in the US. However it was overcome, and quickly passed out of most people’s minds. The Varoa mite transmits other diseases, particularly viruses. Left untreated, they can infest and wipe out an entire bee colony within a few months. Although the honey bee crisis of 2005 was attributed to the Varoa mite, the 2006-2007 crises was of unknown origin.
Honey bee losses between Oct. 2006 and Feb. 2007 have now risen to unprecedented levels, reports from beekeepers from 22 states have indicated decimation of hives by as much as 80%.
Unfortunately researchers have been unable to isolate a common cause.
There are several probable factors that could be contributing to the decline. Among them are mites and associated diseases, unknown pathogenic diseases and pesticide contamination or poisoning affecting domesticated and wild bee populations around the world.
Why is it worrisome when bees die by the thousands? Three words: global food supply. The humble honey bee is vital for the pollination of a wide range of plants, affecting everything from clover (think cows) to fruits and vegetables. It’s difficult for many to imagine how something as small and annoying as a honey bee could play such an important role but they do. Approximately 80% of all insect pollination is accomplished by honey bees. While even researchers are uncertain as to the exact cause of the decline, there is something we all can do to help protect remaining populations: reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides. After all, you want to eat, don’t you?